Religious Domestic Abuse is not about marriage or faith. 

Torture equipment clipart illustration psd

Those are tools of the abuser.

Too often an abused woman in the church seeks help from a pastor, only to be told to go home and submit. If she prays more, loves more, studies Bible more, forgives more, she will solve her dilemma. 

Or, in the cases of caring but uninformed pastors, he may rebuke the man, only to be met with resistance because the abuser does not think there is anything wrong with what he is doing. 

Marriage is simply the setting the abuser is using. That’s because it’s hard to get out of. A long and costly battle is involved in trying to leave an abusive marriage. That’s after the gauntlet of so many churches counseling the evils of divorce. 

Recently a retired attorney posted that it can cost $100-200,000 to win a court battle with an abuser. Some are not willing to take that on and few women have those resources to fight. 

And with the weaponization of family courts against wives in conservative states, the prospects are even dimmer. Conservative legislators have passed laws which tie the hands of attorneys and judges, even if they might see that a woman and children need relief.

Catch-22s have been legislated against bringing abuse into courts as evidence for divorce. Therapist testimony has been discouraged. One attorney stated that evidence against the perpetrator had to be approved by defendent to be introduced in court. In some cases, abusers who would not be allowed to work around children are granted unsupervised visitation with their children. 

And faith is also not an issue. Churches, while potentially very important in providing support to women, misunderstand that counseling, even Christian counseling quoting Bible verses, will not help in these cases. They have no leverage with an abuser. In fact, an abuser will manipulate a counselor against the one seeking decent treatment. 

Bible verses are weaponized against victims but not applied to perpetrators because the Bible was written in a patriarchical culture and has been coopted by men seeking to stay in power using God’s name. They prey upon the woman’s desire to please God, always emphasizing where she has fallen short, even when this is not the case. Projection, gaslighting and forms of verbal abuse have all been bolstered by using some verse(s) against someone with a tender heart or conscience. My workbook and other advocates have listed the favorite ones, including the unlimited forgiveness and sacrificing unto death to imitate Christ. 

The “faithful” have a hard time wrapping their mind around this level of deceit. Often they do not believe victims. Abusers have hedged their bets by creating impressions of their victims with others ahead of time. And if the abuser is a church leader, the disbelief is even harder to overcome. 

So those who would help an abused believer need to understand that Bible verses or counseling against divorce are irrelevant in this case. They only work against a woman or man seeking relief from an abuser. 

A woman doesn’t just need support. She needs a team to deal with the forces that an abuser can marshal against her. The team must be knowledgeable, and professionals must be allowed to provide evidence from their field. 

Otherwise it’s just a kangaroo court where the outcome has already been decided and the process simply retraumatizes those already suffering. 

Accounts of women going into hiding, moving to another state, or even suiciding have been documented resulting from hopelessness of relief. Those who are fighting this new form of abuse are learning some realities that have not yet been publicized. In some cases, even if they would, they would be coopted as other support has been.

It is important to strengthen while still in the marriage because it will be even  harder to get out and establish a new life. But not to do so is to agree to subject the mother and children to more abuse. My workbook, Redemption from Biblical Battering, is the process I used to do this. 

There are other resources as well. Not only is the level of coercion hard but Christian women find it hard to think in the terms needed to overcome an abuser. They may cling to the idea that he will care, that he will try to make it work, he will listen to reason, or other assumptions. Abusers are not reasonable.

Some of the advice is to try to move away to a fairer state where courts are not used as weapons against women seeing relief. Other ideas are not to agree to more visitation than necessary, since time will not be decreased. Some women believe they should feel sorry for the father and agree to too much, not realizing this is not a fair fight between two sincere parties.

Conditioned to give, women may have a hard time understanding that giving more concessions is not the solution in this case.  This is not about what is fair. This is about his determination to win, no matter what level of harm is involved. His level of control is being challenged, the original sin.

Women sometimes believe that separating will improve the behavior of the abuser. They are surprised when the husband doubles down. If he was not livable before the divorce, he certainly isn’t going to be during the divorce. 

Other resources for dealing with this new reality in the fight against domestic abuse can be found in articles about co-parenting with narcissists or Women’s Coalition International. This extreme state is also hard to believe. But advocacy is building. Unfortunately, it does not help those children being mandated to visit or even be fully under the custody of an abuser and the courts to control women seeking to escape.

Published by Fessup

A 30-year veteran educator and counselor, published author, lifelong student of religion and women's issues, educator with, mother, and lover of Far Side humor.