Abuse, Church

What say you?

All of my posts up to this point have been to give information. This time, I am interested in feedback.

In a recent post about counselors and counseling I discussed the manipulator’s ability to out-counsel even an experienced counselor. I believe that many pastors do not receive enough training in counseling in general and even less for counseling manipulators and abusers. Lack of experience, knowledge and time are major deterrents to a pastor’s ability to effectively counsel complicated situations where abuse, manipulation and control exist.

When I returned to the state and my church, which was without a pastor at that time, the deacons were running the show. I had been receiving counsel from several sources up to that point and there was a couple at my church that helped me a great deal. Once I returned however, the deacons wanted to step in and this couple to step out. Much of this was related to the fact that my husband had initiated contact with the deacons and had insisted this couple was detrimental to the situation.

The deacons began to get involved once I informed them of my intent to both return to the state and begin regularly attending my church again. It was at this time I also informed them that I was pursing divorce. I had been gone for 4 months and had not heard a thing, not one thing from them, until then. Now, all of a sudden, my situation mattered. They wanted me to hold off pursuing divorce. They wanted to be sure I had exhausted every avenue. They wanted me to reconcile.

Not long after that, my former husband also began contacting the deacons. He said he wanted to reconcile. He was willing to forgive and forget. He was willing to forgive the friends that helped me get out of my situation. He wanted to make everything better. I had predicted this. I told the deacons it was what was going to happen. I told them to be careful not to be fooled. (This was something they had to learn on their own)

To be fair I will say they were cautiously optimistic. They wanted to pursue it and give it every opportunity to happen. The problem was that they were more than just 4 months too late. They were 15 years too late. I had tried. I had begged for counseling.  I had worked harder and worked to change myself. I had gone to people for help to no avail.

At some point, I would like to go into more detail on their plan as it was both unreasonable and naive at best and did nothing to protect me. I believe it is a good example of how much misunderstanding there really is surrounding these situations.

Not many people knew what had happened. I wasn’t talking and the situation was kept very hush-hush. The official statement read to the church had been very tightly controlled. I was very general in the statement and made no specific allegations, but in fear of retribution, the statement was pared away to an ineffective unenlightening statement of our absence. The pastor resigned his position shortly after this.

The deacons were temporarily in charge and once my return became imminent, my situation became a focal point. They believed they could handle the counseling. They also believed that as long as you have the Bible, you have all the information you need in order to counsel. I am not so sure it is as simple as that.

Scripture is open to interpretation. Over the years many portions of scripture have been debated. Good men have given their lives for the interpretation that they defended. While there are tenets that are essential to the faith, there are certainly less central portions of scripture that not only have a myriad of interpretations, but are not completely clear.

In their interpretation of scripture, my “open conflict with a brother in Christ” (my then husband) was key in their decision to pursue church discipline against me and the other couple in my church who had helped me. Their interpretation of scripture required this of them. They were holding to their convictions. My interpretation was that in my husband’s perpetual mistreatment of me, amongst other issues, he had broken the covenant of marriage, therefore forfeiting that relationship. While it is not Christ’s intent or even desire for this to happen, in certain cases he allows for its dissolution.

This is where I leave the topic open for your thoughts on the matter. Is Scripture all you need for handling situations such as these? Can other modalities be used and trusted? Must one only have an intimate knowledge of Scripture in order to effectively deal with this without any further training?

I have my thoughts but what say you?

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17 Comments

  • Reply Chris TX May 8, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Rebecca, I absolutely agree with your interpretation of scripture in these kinds of situations. I have served as a pastor for over 30 years, and sadly agree that most of us do not receive enough training in counseling. Thank you, thank you, thank you for telling your story. I wish that I had heard it years ago. There are so many counseling situations that I wish I had handled differently…mirror images of what you describe…sometimes the exact same words used by the narcissist. Although I can’t change the past, I can go forward with much more knowledge and insight about these situations. Your blog is like a weekly training session for me. Again, thank you for being courageous enough to share. You have no idea how many people will be rescued because of it!

    • Reply Rebecca May 10, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      Thank you so much for your feedback, especially being someone in the position to have dealt with this in the past and continue to. My dad is a seminary trained pastor but felt very ill-equipped to deal with this. (And he had been dealing with another equally or even more horrific situation in his own church). I do believe having a personal attachment can also help change your perspective. My dad knows me, we are a close knit family, yet it was eye-opening for him to see how I had responded to my husband’s treatment over the years. It helped him see and understand the unhealthy mindset a victim develops and the abuser’s ability to manipulate and control. Churches that promote patriarchalism are going to have to watch for this situation particularly. While I am not promoting egalitarianism, a complementarian view of marriage is likely to promote a more healthy husband/wife dynamic, though I have seen healthy patriarchal relationships as well.
      I understand your regret over situations that you wished you had handled differently in the past and truly appreciate your willingness to admit to it. You are not the only one. My prayer is that in those situations, the women (or men) see that despite human error, God is still good. We can learn not only much through our own mistakes but through those of others. I really appreciate your feedback!

  • Reply Liberty May 8, 2017 at 11:59 am

    If your question was “Is Christ sufficient?” I would answer wholeheartedly yes. Scripture is Jesus in Word (John 1:14), in language. YES! Scripture is sufficient! However, I would say it is Very Rare indeed, to find a pastor-shepherd/deacons who can use the Scripture as the sword it is intended to be (Hebrews 4:12). It is much more common for a pastor/deacons to use the Scriptures that are convenient to their own interpretation of matters.
    Scripture does not prohibit other training, and it does encourage Wisdom. Therefore it would behoove counselors to get proper training in areas where they need the expertise. It would also behoove pastors and deacons to say– “I’m not experienced in this particular area– let me find someone else who can help.”

    Shame on the deacons who were not interested in your life/problems until you wanted to attend church again. Shame on them. Yes, they were 15 years too late. To those deacons, the ultimate shame is probably divorce. Yes, divorce is sad for the children, the spouses, all around. It is a last resort. But, have those deacons remembered that in Heaven there is no marriage?

    • Reply Rebecca May 10, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      I really think you identified a real sticking point! Just because you are a pastor does not mean you know it all and/or can handle it all. It is a sign of strength when someone can say “This is out of my league and I need to consult or hand off to someone who is better equipped than I.” When I had the opportunity to talk to my pastor after I had left, I encouraged him to consider this in the future.
      Yes, you are also correct in your assumption that the deacons considered divorce a sin and never to be entertained. Their solution of indefinite separation until reconciliation could be achieved was frankly a pipe-dream and naive. In fact, research shows that the spouse who leaves is 50-75% more likely to be killed after separating from an abusive situation. While I cannot say I personally was afraid for my life, it does shed light on the increased instability of the situation after separation.
      Is the Bible sufficient? Yes I agree, however one cannot find the definitions of abuse, manipulation, gas-lighting, love-bombing and statistics like I presented above in the Bible. Is it wrong to rely on other sources? I whole heartedly say no! The Bible shapes our world view; it is our source of wisdom, but it is not the only source.

  • Reply Kim May 8, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Hi Becky, This is one area I really struggle with. The narcissist in my life is my dad, who is very emotionally abusive to me. I finally cut him off about 10 years ago after he got drunk and verbally abusive to me at Thanksgiving dinner when I asked him to stop being nasty towards my ex-sister in law who I’m still close with (brother dear is also an abusive narcissist so I don’t speak with him either, and I helped her get free).

    I was saved as an adult. I immediately tried to line up my life with the Bible, but I have to say, it frustrates and confuses me that the Bible doesn’t address this, and I’ve struggled with handling the issues with extended family, as well as some more intense marriage issues with my husband that have since worked out, thankfully. I find that it is hard to apply the Bible when you have more than the “normal” issues. Honor your father and mother? Well that’s not easy when you have a drunken narcissist for a dad. Even calling God my father is hard (I’m adopted, so for a long time I had to black out the word adoption from the Bible because it’s such an icky word to me).

    So, for me, it’s frustrating and in many ways it’s hampered my faith in Christ because it feels like, if you read the Bible, that God wants us meek and quiet and “winning him without a word” and honoring authority, and forgiving, and turning the other cheek, etc. But it really doesn’t seem to me, as I pray about it and seek God, that overlooking gross, harmful sin is correct, yet I can’t find justification for that in the Bible. I’ve been told that I’m “leaning on my own understanding” or that I’m being “wise in my own eyes” or that I’m trusting my own heart or the world’s wisdom. But I also know that, regarding abuse I’ve suffered from my parents, regarding dealing with a husband struggling with porn….the world’s wisdom is sadly what worked more than God’s. My sanity is saved from kicking dad to the curb so to speak. My marriage was saved by taking a hard stand. And I hate that I couldn’t open the Bible and get answers or worse, had to seemingly go against what it teaches for wives, and adult children. I’ve had so many friends in abusive marriages lately, and it breaks my heart. I’m learning in my old age not to be so legalistic about “what a wife should do”…and yet I find myself struggling there because I do believe the Bible is the word of God. My husband says that because we have the Holy Spirit living in us, we have that to guide us in all truth in those areas where the Bible is less clear or silent.

    I’m glad your friends helped you get out safely.

    • Reply Rebecca May 10, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      Kim,
      I have to be transparent, the Bible presented problems for me as well. Perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say that my interpretation and application of the Bible presented problems for me. I believe it is God’s infallible word but we are fallible people and prone to misinterpreting it. I know many people, including the deacons at my former church, are well-meaning (I do not believe for one minute that this was something against me personally), but their interpretation, or misinterpretation, can do real damage to people. While they saw marriage as a permanently binding covenant, which is exactly what it was intended to be, they also failed to see that a covenant can be broken and that there are consequences for that. I would never wish for them to experience this on a personal level but I do have to wonder how their stance might change if it were their own daughters in this situation. I have a hard time believing that their convictions would not somehow look different.
      Some parts of the Bible that became an issue for me were: love thine enemy, do good to those that hate you, turn the other cheek, forgive 70 x7, and I Peter 3. While I took those scriptures at face value and acted upon them, I in turn missed other parts of scripture that speak of admonishing and correcting sinful behavior. The scriptures that I chose to singularly focus on allowed it to continue. The Bible may not use the word abuse but it does talk about how to deal with sin and abuse is sin.
      I do believe that we can be God-honoring Christian women without being doormats. That was never God’s intent for us.

    • Reply Alanna May 17, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      Kim,
      I am so sorry you have have been hurt. I am so sorry you have struggled with this. I think we often interpret scripture through the lense of what we are taught, instead of what God has truly spoken. When we interpret scripture at face value and through the lense of scripture we can see so much better Who God is. I encourage you to read the story of Joseph, who tested his brothers before allowing them to be a part of his life. Read the story of David and Bathsheeba in the understanding that she was raped, and the consequences for David’s sin were severe. Bathsheeba was oppressed, abused, and grief stricken through this, but at no fault of her own. And in Proverbs 31 Solomon describes her teaching him wisdom and as a virtuous woman. Proverbs 31:8-9 says “Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously,
      And plead the cause of the poor and needy.” Read 1 Corinthians 5 understanding God requires us to cast out wicked people who have and continue to abuse from among us. As well as Matthew 7. God is on the side of the oppressed! Psalm 82 the psalmist cries out to God to help the oppressed, knowing He is loving, gracious, and merciful. Ephesians 5:25-28 tells us what a Marriage should look like, that is what God wants, He does not want you trapped inside an abusive marriage… there are so so many verses about God’s compassion towards the broken and abused as well as His wrath and judgement on wickedness. Psalm 147:3-6 … It may take alot of cleansing from poor biblical teaching to better understand God’s incredible love and compassion towards you. But He is there loving u and wanting you to know He is FOR you.

  • Reply LB May 8, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    Dear Kim,
    I recommend the book “Boundaries in Marriage.” I understand from experience some of your frustrations. This book shows scriptural ways to respond to a spouse’s sin (or a simple lack of being a responsible adult) in ways that might surprise you. You may find that what you thought was only worldly wisdom, is indeed the Biblical way to handle those situations….

    • Reply Rebecca May 10, 2017 at 6:38 pm

      Thank you for your recommendation!

  • Reply Helen May 9, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    If you have honest, truthful and transparent individuals then the word of God is a useful tool. In addition to this you need an unbiased, experienced counselor. If either party had a personality disorder and is a convincing liar then counseling is not going to be easy. Narcissists don’t change without professional help. A broken and contrite heart is essential in this equation. I believe further training is necessary in order to counsel. There are just too many psychiatric disorders that most people have no idea about. I would like to say more but because this is a public blog I don’t feel comfortable.

    • Reply Rebecca May 10, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      Helen,
      I spoke once to my former husbands counselor, who was a Christian, and asked him if he was familiar with “love-bombing,” a classic narcissist tactic, and he had no idea what that term meant. If he, a trained and professional counselor, did not know what that was, how much less is a pastor, who is likely to have only had one class in counseling, going to know it, let alone how to confront it. I am curious as to when it became taboo to believe that a pastor might not be able to counsel all of life’s problems.

  • Reply Alanna May 9, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Becky,
    I truly believe Christ is sufficient, and if scripture is interpreted properly and compared with scripture, I believe these deacons would not have chastised you, but your abuser. However, there are Counselors and therapists who are experts on the mind and emotions, just like a general is an expert in the art of war. You wouldn’t ask a pastor to give you a medical diagnosis on your brain tumor, unless he was also a medical doctor, and more specifically a brain surgeon. You can ask for prayer or even wise counsel or advice, but he is not an authority on the subject, so he should refer you to a physician on medical matters. So unless a pastor or deacon is a professional counselor, then they should know these matters would be better suited for a professional. But like I said in the beginning, if these men used the scriptures to discern and rightly divide the word of truth, then they would have known how to better handle your situation in the first place. God is always on the side of the oppressed. He is ever defending the weak. And the worth of a human soul is far more important then an institution. Marriage was created because it was not good that man was alone, because man needed a helpmate. Marriage was meant for good, not as a trap. It is a picture of Christs love for the Church, holy, loving and sacraficial. However, it is also distinctly different, in that it is a bilateral covenant, in which both parties are responsible for maintaining the promises they made. So, the abuser already broke that marriage vow, you did not break it. It was already broken.

    • Reply Rebecca May 10, 2017 at 7:00 pm

      Well stated Alanna. As I said in my response to Helen, the belief that all pastors should be able to handle counseling in these situations is puzzling to me. If one is not specifically trained in it, how could one possible know what to do? I do believe that answers can be found outside the Bible, as an adjunct. The deacons misinterpretation lay in the fact that they focused on certain scriptures to the exclusion of others. This is exactly how my own misinterpretation of scripture kept me in and allowed this behavior to continue rather than standing up against it and confronting it. Their dogged insistence on the unbreakability of the covenant is also interesting as it is clear in other places in the Bible that God considers covenants to be breakable and pronounces consequences as a result. (Leviticus 26; Jeremiah 11,13) We get ourselves in trouble when we take portions of scripture and isolate them or raise them above other portions that may not suit our own beliefs so much. Suddenly, we are using scripture out of context and in a way God did not intend.

      • Reply Alanna May 17, 2017 at 12:19 pm

        Amen! When scripture is interpreted through scripture and not through tradition, or what a pastor said once, that may or may not have been a catchy slogan he came up with, then we can see more clearly what God intended and and ultimately Who He is.

  • Reply Alanna May 9, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Also, I am so grateful for your blog. You are doing amazing work. Keep speaking truth, keep challenging the status quo. You are an incredible voice for the broken, suffering, and abused!

  • Reply Sally May 19, 2017 at 11:34 pm

    I just now found this post. First, thank you for telling your story. I’ve been helping a friend through a similar situation over the past year, and have found your posts and the ones from your friend who helped you to be really helpful to her and to myself.

    We all interpret Scripture through our own eyes, in light of our personal experiences and the sum total of our previous thoughts/teachings. To pretend we don’t is foolishness. The best we can do is try to decide what it meant to the original audience, draw out the principles that are true regardless of culture or nationality, and ask the Lord to lead us through His Spirit as we seek how to apply those principles in our own life.

    If Moses could use what he learned in Pharoah’s court, Nehemiah what he learned as a cupbearer to the king, and Paul what he learned under Gamaliel, why would we think that we could have a complete understanding of everything in human relationships and good leadership practices simply from the Scriptures? Certainly, we reject worldly ways of thinking that contradict the Scriptures. But just as the Scriptures didn’t tell us about electricity and nuclear physics and lots of other things God put into His creation, why would we think they would tell us everything there is to know? 2 Peter 1:3 means that we have everything we need for godliness and eternal life, not everything there is to know.

    Everything I’ve read by Henry Cloud and/or John Townsend has been excellent. And I’ve only read Leslie Vernick’s web site, but I would expect her books to be superb as well. These remind us that we are called to be good stewards over what God has given us – and that includes our relationships, our time, our bodies, and other areas of our lives that abusers end up destroying in their quest for power and control. To draw healthy boundaries is good for everyone, even the person who wants to push right through those boundaries. And it is good for them whether they realize it or not.

  • Reply GB June 1, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    Found your blog while doing some training out East. I know you’re here to educate and empower women, but I still lurk here to read the posts.

    My background is tactical and investigative, but I’ve moved on to pastoral care, specifically to the US Military. My people (US Army) suck at marriage. I see much marital counseling in my future.

    Over the last five years, two different couples within a church I formerly attended just rubbed me wrong. Got my badguy-radar running, though I couldn’t put my finger on any specific wrongdoing, and it wasn’t my job to do the sniffing. In time, circumstances revealed both couples were dominated by narcissistic abusers. 15 years ago, a similar feeling about a guy led to a similar discovery. Always just a hunch, though.

    I’m using your blog as part of my training, trying to add some objective criteria to help narrow down that “hunch” feeling. Thanks for what you do. God be with you; Jesus shelter you; Spirit comfort you.

    Back to lurking. Godspeed.

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