Featured

4th Annual RBB Thriver Award

 C.S. won the maximum $1,000 award for her thriving in spite of torment.

 “I have been married to an abusive man for 13 years. I didn’t know what red flags were until I had been married for over a decade. I didn’t understand the depth of wickedness men are capable of until realizing I have been married to an imposter of the faith.

The abuse started on our honeymoon and only escalated over the years. My husband’s behaviors included threats of suicide with guns for the purpose of control and manipulation, blocking exits, keeping me trapped in rooms, rape, coercion. lies, deceptions, porn, use of hidden cameras, spying, monitoring, withholding funds so I would have to beg for money to pay the bills and feed our children – or pay him for sexual favors for the money, violent animal abuse in front our children and I, abuse of our children (emotional and physical), kicking, intimidation (verbal, body language, and use of guns), regular threats to kill my dog, threats to kill me with details of how it would be done (but twisted to make me the villain), threats to take our children away from me or leave us trapped in the house with only what he choose to feed us, drinking and driving in secret, drinking and driving our children, isolation throwing me against the wall and strangling me in front of our children, sleep deprivation – and a great many things besides.

I felt I was the problem for many years. He would tell me I was such a horrible person that I couldn’t possibly be a Christian; though I sought The Lord and studied the Word as diligently as I knew how and did my best to serve Him, I believed his lies. I thought what he said must be true because he was my husband and said frequently that he loved me. He could also be very kind. But I felt like I was dying and didn’t know how to get well. I had a great many truths to discover from the Word of God which teachers so clearly about men such as these.

At the beginning of each year I was in the habit of praying about a theme for the year the Lord would have me focus on. In 2020 I felt strongly that I needed to be set free from something, though I didn’t know what. All I knew was that the Truth would set me free. As I pursued the Truth, I felt that I was lacking in wisdom and needed it desperately.

So I began to study Proverbs in my quest to find wisdom and really was parked there all year. It was through studying Proverbs that I began to understand and unravel what was going on in my marriage. I remember vividly the day that I was listening to a podcast on marriage – desperate to be a better wife and end the cycles of chaos and fear that controlled our home.

What I heard was a description of abuse. I was stunned. It sounded exactly like my life! I had no idea I had been experiencing abuse. I had no idea it came in cycles. I thought all along I was truly the problem and had begun to despair of life itself. The podcast host recommended calling the National Abuse Hotline if experiencing such things. So I did. More than once. They told me that I had been experiencing every form of abuse possible for the length of my marriage and recommended I develop a safety plan. But I was so confused! My husband could be so charming, so charismatic and quote scripture. He had been disciplined by our pastor for nearly three years, taught the Word of God in our church and called himself a missionary. He professed Christ and read Bible stories to our children.

I took some risk assessments during this time and reached out to our local shelter and found my risk of homicide was about 9 our of 10. As I researched abuse, my husband continued to escalate to the point I wasn’t sure my kids and I would make it out alive. After I watched him kick my daughter and then had me trapped in our bedroom while he took multiple guns, threatening suicide and commanding me not to leave the bed or talk to anyone, while checking me repeatedly throughout most of the night to m make sure I was obeying him and preventing me from going to our children. I couldn’t take it anymore. He had me trapped in the room because I hadn’t checked the phone for three hours while I was homeschooling our children that day. This was not love we were experiencing. It was a prison. Love casts out fear. It doesn’t create it.

Disciples of Christ love others. They don’t lie, deceive and manipulate those they profess to love. They don’t control others for their own gain to satisfy their desires.

The Word of God draws a clear line; either we love and obey Him and walk in light and love, or we follow the father of lies in deception, hatred and darkness. I came to realize I could not follow Christ fully while being forced to worship a man who does not follow Christ in deed and truth. I came to understand that God hates oppression more than He hates divorce.

I came to realize that I was actually previous in His sight and worth deliverance from wickedness. When I could name what we were experiencing, I was able to find clarity and direction. And it was resources like Shirlley’s that helped me name our experiences.

I went to my family seeking help to safely get a restraining order. I was disbelieved by the men in our family and put in danger when my older brother contacted our pastor. This pastor whom I considered to be my friend (and had ministered alongside in our own church as well as in a few different countries) was part of the spiritual abuse I experienced as well. He completlly sided with my abuser and did not act as a mandatory reporter when my daughter experienced physical abuse by her father. In fact, this pastor told me the state would take my kids away because I had sought help from our local domestic violence shelter.

During my time of researching abuse, I stumbled upon Shirley’s workbook. It was hugely helpful to me in unraveling the lies of abuse that are so entrapping and confusing. Her workbook was helpful in staying grounded throughout the process of trying to safely extricate my daughters and I. Being near an abusive person can be like living in a dense fog. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what was up or down, true or false, and her book was like a roadmap that helped me stay on course.

I have a restraining order for about a year and a half now*, and we are hopefully near the end of the legal battle for our divorce, but my kids and I are facing the prospect of possiby being homeless very soon and I am still virtually jobless at the moment I had been cowboying when I met my husband and threw my whole life into being a wife and mother so have been out of the workforce for many years. Though I am attending school online, it will be awhile before I can reap any financial benefit from my schooling and I feel extremely convicted to continue to homeschool my daughters. My goal in completing my schooling is the ability to work from home in order to be with them as much as I can. We have all been diagnosed with PTSD and I feel they need as much nurturing and stability as I can provide for them.

This grant will be extremely helpful in regaining our footing and rebuilding our lives as I attempt to start over and provide a haven for my daughters that is free of abuse.”

  • Since this writing, her ex did everything to drag out the divorce until finally mediation brought it to an end. Her parents have since supported her and provided alternative housing for them.
Featured

A New Lesson for Church Women

Recently I polled Twitter for reasons church women do not help women being abused in their church. I was shocked at the responses.

Some thought it was the power of group membership. Others that they feared male authority. But the number one reason was to feel superior.

What happened to Jesus’ message of helping the sufferer? I naively thought people were in a church because they believed in helping others as Jesus taught.

Now I understand not wanting to get personally involved in a messy conflict between a wife and husband. But that is not what is needed. We all know people can do more harm than good if they don‘t know how to help.

But too many churches are upholding male entitlement. They are siding with the abuser and shunning the victim. Shunning a woman retraumatizes her.

How is it that women, who represent caring, turn against one another in the church, the institution of Jesus’ caring?

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee asks

          Can we remember the wholeness within us, the wholeness

that unites spirit and matter? Or will we continue walking

 down this road that has…but women off from their sacred power

 and knowledge?

The dedication to denying that women are made in the image of God equally not  only betrays Jesus’ foundation of respect for women but also justifies abuse and violence against women.

The story of Sarah and Hagar illustrates women’s plight today. Both were put at odds with one another as pawns for men’s agendas, patriarchy. They didn’t recognize each other as ‘sisters in suffering’ (Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente). The toxic legacy continues today.

Both women showed the ability to directly communicate with God outside male parameters, but were nonetheless subjugated to submission and servitude. A Biblical version preceding the Handmaid’s Tale, it illustrates the gender wound women are born with. Worth, even survival, depends on bonding with a man. Status comes from the man. Male social domination comes to be believed, elevated to truth, in the church, as divine will.

So women are either oppressed or agents of oppression in religious groups. One ends up helping to recreate the patriarchical world. She is invested in it, to  her degradation. Men also are limited by  it.

Women must learn to reject enmity between each other in the church, to see how patriarchy damages everyone. Church women can start by discovering and honoring themselves as independently worthy humans in the image of a God who is neither male nor female. They can work with other women who are already on the journey. Making God only male is idolatry.

The demonization of the word “feminism” should be a red flag to women in the church. Feminism is simply upholding women’s equality. It shows up in many ways. Men in church condemn it because it is a form of power not under their control.

Befriending women outside the male definition of a “good woman” is a transformational journey. The same forces that subject a church woman to abuse in her marriage are operating in less obvious but equally powerful ways in other church women.

Church women must reject hatred of other women to feel secure in patriarchy. Only by strengthening our ties with one another will we truly be followers of Jesus.

Featured

Making the Best of a Bad Situation with God: Jannice D’s Story

How a Blind Woman Saw the Ungodliness of Her Abusive Christian Husband

Jannice’s story has so much in common with other survivors of religious domestic abuse.

But consider she met all this while being blind. Her story of immense courage inspires us all.

Jannice is a woman of faith born in the early 50s in rural Ohio, attending church regularly. Neither her parents nor her two younger sisters were born with any visual impairment. They were able to get training for her at Columbia’s School for the Blind. Jannice excelled so much that she studied at the local public high school during the last three years and earned her diploma in 1970.

Jannice met her husband in 1972 at college. What started out as a Christian marriage soon became a nightmare. As so often, the marriage began well. But over time, her husband changed, became more critical, unreasonable, and even assaultive, all while upbraiding her with Bible verses and accusations against her spirit.

Her husband used feet, hands and words to try to break her spirit. As a result she lost three boys, (two were twins), all born after 6 ½ months. His violence compromised her pregnancy and made the babies unable to survive.

As he escalated, she became convinced he would kill her as well.

He refused marital counseling or any urging to seek help at church.

Jannice has an enduring faith in God through which she worked to find and make clear decisions and to choose the best options.

Jannice found work and a safe place to live to sever herself from the toxic relationship. Some women don’t want to break their covenant vow, and Jannice wrestled with this as well. But she writes “I believe he broke the vows of our marriage long before I left. 

She also struggled with her commitment to stay married but eventually left for her safety. Jannice believes that it is best for women to try to save themselves with God’s help if a partner does not abide by God’s laws regarding marriage.

Finding work at an area service agency, she moved into her own apartment and built a life beyond abuse with God’s help and good friends.

She then earned a Master’s degree in the late 80s and became a rehabilitation teacher in Louisiana and New Jersey.  A promotion took her to Memphis. Afterward she found more opportunity in a Midwestern city. She packed her boxes and arranged the moves by herself.

Jannice writes There is always hope to encourage other women living in abuse underscored by false use of God’s name to harm.  She trusts God to meet her and provide for her needs, honoring her faith. She has seen people respond to support her when she showed her willingness to live in faith.

See your God-given dignity as Jannice did! Contact me for access to online support.

Featured

Do It For the Kids

Many abused spouses wrestle with the separating from the abuser by their fears that it is harmful for their children to grow up with only one parent.

They may not have looked beyond the effects behind such blanket pronouncements based on ideal of successful family life.

Of course a strong, protective and wise loving parent, both father and mother, is important for children’s nurturance. However insisting that a male body and a female body is all that is necessary falls short of the reality of what is actually needed for children’s development.

Is a cruel father or a derelict mother really preferable just to maintain the presence of two adults in the home? Or perhaps more important to the church, the image of family life as secured by church membership?

If that one parent is abusive, testimonies and studies of children who grew up in domestic abuse may be able to correct this misgiving.

SHORT TERM EFFECTS ON CHILDREN OF DA (Domestic Abuse): PRESCHOOL

Bed wetting
Thumb sucking
Excessive crying and whining
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Showing signs of terror such as stuttering or hiding
Severe separation anxiety

Usually concerns for maintaining two parents are also influenced by fears of social image or peer interactions at schools. The stigma around divorce is less outside the church than within.

School staff are familiar with children living in single parent homes. It is not the grim disaster that those upholding male power have painted. Dealing with painful home situations leave persistent issues for children as they grow up, but living in them creates more.

SHORT TERM EFFECTS ON CHILDREN OF DA (Domestic Abuse): Grade School
Blame self for abuse
Headaches, stomachaches
Few friends or bully others
Excuses not to bring friends home or go to school activities
Stuttering,
Try to be perfect or not try at all; falling grades

Students are usually sympathetic with one another when they learn someone is navigating living with a single parent. They may lend a sympathetic ear as their classmate is dealing with custody visits or other issues that can arise. Needless to say, abusive spouses can use children as political footballs to put pressure on their victims.

SHORT TERM EFFECTS ON CHILDREN OF DA: TEENS

Girls tend to withdraw or be depressed
Boys tend to act out in aggression; bully others
Loner or spend all time at school, jobs or sports
Risky behaviors; drugs; alcohol; poor sexual decisions (of course girls sexually abused in home act out sexually) Choose abusive partners.
Avoid drawing attention to self in case parents called in
Try to protect abused parent; boys try to attack father; or identify with abuser and disrespect victim; blame victim

Spouses who do leave may have to live through the deliberate alienation of a child that the abuser fosters by lying to them.

The younger the child, the better it is to leave. But workers have also seen older children pleading with the victim to leave and feeling tremendous relief when they can sleep in safety each night. Also women report that, as the son gets older, the anger builds and he may try to injure or kill the abuser to protect his mother. No one wants to see their child go to court over this tragedy.

In later life, diabetes, heart disease, depression and suicide are present at higher rates.

If you cannot leave

  •  help children feel safe.
  • Talk to them about healthy ways to relate.
  • Take them to safe surroundings as often as you can.
  • Allow to talk about their fears.
  • Talk about boundaries.
  • Find support system.
  • Get professional help.

If your church stigmatizes divorce, know that this is not the stance they should be taking in pastoral care.  Staying in abuse serves those who want power, not the victims. Civil authorities like the courts hold mothers more responsible for child welfare than fathers. If you don’t leave for your own well-being, leave for theirs. The longer you stay, the more deep damage is done to your children. Their welfare is your responsibility. Raising them in abuse is not what they need.

Children do better in a safe, stable, loving environment whether there is one or two parents.  They feel tension and fear. Leaving can teach them it’s not ok.

Featured

Which Spin Cycle Are You In?

A primary tool of those who want to keep someone controlled is confusion.

Some well-known tools of confusion are gaslighting, accusations, and isolation.

These are used to disorient the person and keep them doubting the evidence of their senses and gut feelings, or intuition, which is the pipeline of the Holy Spirit within. God’s voice within is not fearful or negative. They counter any incoming information which would help the target.

I and other religious domestic abuse veterans report seven levels of confusion, which my self-help workbook explains. When a partner fears to challenge one level, the controller escalates to the next level. The most severe level creates the most severe trauma.

What level are you in?

  1. Am I being abused?

Those who cannot empathize may ridicule this question, but the subtle and complex methods of coercive controllers have explained away their cruelties by couching them in terms of caring about their victim.

I had to call a hotline to understand. Because abuse is not always physical, some partners do not identify their violations as abuse. One of the most heartbreaking words I hear are “At least he doesn’t hit me.” Coercive and covert control does not need to use violence against the one they have targeted for manipulation and brainwashing.

  • You Know It’s Abuse but You Wonder if You Deserve It

Believing women are in struggles with perfectionism, chronic giving, and people pleasing. Unfortunately, cherry-picking Bible verses to emphasize and other dogmas uplift the very behaviors that controllers find ideal. Any desire or effort to take care of normal needs or choose self-care can be slandered as faithlessness or worse.  In this toxic culture, dehumanized suffering becomes a way of following Christ. This is not Jesus’ example.

  • You Know You Don’t Deserve It but You Wonder if You Can Help Him

At this level, partners are struggling to obey a misguided ideal that they can and actually should save their controlling, abusive or oppressive partner. Spiritual pride, learned from those who are vested in keeping partners controlled, has developed what amounts to idolatry. Only the Holy Spirit and the person can decide to follow a path of compassion, care and respect. The vow to honor is not in their interest. So in this level, spinning between wanting to help someone who does not respect the helper keeps the sufferer from escaping a one-way, no-win relationship.

  • You Know You Can’t Help Him, but You Wonder if it is God’s Will

In this spin cycle, the partner tries to establish or navigate boundaries that are like an obstacle course. A victim will try to avoid the toxicity while moving ahead or keeping a home together. The controller will not allow this.

The misunderstanding of God’s will traps those who try to live in faith at this point. A concept of God’s will as subjection is applied to only one of the partners. Hurling charges of not obeying God’s will never boomerang back to the abuser, who projects his own defects and fears on his partner.

The controlling partner does not apply the Christian ideals to his or her own life, only the partner and children.  They claim immunity from any partnership, saying s/he is disrespectful for asking for consideration. The oppressed partner is prohibited or discouraged from leaving the futile fight by misguided family, friends or church leaders who have no understanding of the abusive dynamic.

These are only four of the levels but show the devastation to the partner whose daily life is spinning with the effort to make sense of confusion. While stuck in this struggle, the controller is free to do what he/she wants without any responsibility or consequences.

Any calls to be a partner are sent into the spin cycle of gaslighting, accusations and isolation. If the cycle slows down, the partner just pushes the reset button.

What to do? Begin to chart the patterns of behavior. Clarify and strengthen yourself within the situation. Turn your attention to your own well-being and away from trying to get the controller to stop the spin. It’s a game to the abuser but destroying you.

The workbook contains tools, exercises and clarifying faith concepts to help a reader in this situation. While a victim must have support, the workbook is a map out of the maze to the “Stop Cycle” button.

Featured

Some Beliefs Can Be Deadly

Distressing but needed news has been multiplying as three situations have come to light around religious domestic and other abuse.

First, the SBC released their 205 page list of “credibly accused” leaders who had violated women’s souls, hearts and bodies along with any others who loved them, for the entire family and friends are affected when someone is violated by an authority in a position of trust.

Secondly, a soccer student at the University of Kansas in Lawrence was killed by her “godly believing” fiancé. Her mother had the insight and courage to explain to shocked residents: “He used her faith against her.” This underlies all religious abuse.

Lastly, many of us advocates felt strongly that Marylane Carter had been murdered, not a suicide as the law enforcement had ruled. When her uncle, who was associate pastor with her husband, committed suicide, it sent a message. He was the one who found her body when law enforcement did not.

Those of us who understand and advocate for victims of this perversion are sadly relieved that more is coming out. It is not shocking to those of us who are all too aware of men using the name of God to control, dominate and abuse women.

They are attracted to those churches which uphold male power and denigrate women as inferior.

But how did this become so widespread? Why is it being uncovered in so many faith organizations?

When a system represses a natural part of being human, like the sexual urge, the result is going to be perversion. When a system blames half the membership as creating the evil, as too many churches do, it creates a red flag. It is similar to saying “Don’t think of the elephant.” The forbidden is alluring, creating an unhealthy fascination with destructive behavior.  A church that preaches incessantly about sin is not preaching the gospel of Jesus, which emphasizes human worth.

This approach removes the humanity of women and presents her only as an object. Her body is her total reality in these men’s eyes. If she is seen as a second class soul, she is going to be preyed upon.

In the case of the tragic loss of #Regan Gibbs, we see how so many women fall prey to predators in the church. Tragically Regan seemed so deeply steeped in her desire to serve God that she totally missed the irrationality of her fiance, a religious psychotic. Few realized that some mental illnesses feature religious grandiosity or other associations, such as believing one is a Messiah above normal people and exempt from accountability. Those who knew her praised her Christian devotion.

First of all, anyone speaking in the “code”, those formula words and phrases from the Bible or faith writings, is welcomed into the congregation without any questions. Critical awareness of behavior or other factors is abandoned in the fantasy that they are safe.

Secondly, obsession with Bible study, church attendance, or other religious activity is often encouraged to the point of compulsion. Other normal activities are shamed as being part of “the world”. Trying to monopolize members becomes imbalanced in a person’s development. The constant preoccupation with approved authors, Bible, faith writings, music etc can actually work against facing reality. The “wolves in sheep’s clothing” then operates.

In fact, #Barbara Roberts writes “The very qualities Christian women are encouraged to cultivate re the very qualities that are most attractive to abusive men.” (“Waking the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in Its Midst, https://cryingoutforjustice.blog).

That is why clarifying your faith concepts is so important. Without discerning and “rightly dividing the word of truth”, abstractions like “suffering” “sacrifice” “faith” “will of God” and others become clubs used to shame, guilt, intimidate and control believing women. They become used in verbally abusive ways as labeling, name-calling, accusations, and other condemning and judgemental ways.

Examples: “You’re faithless if you don’t..”  “You’re selfish if you….” “Don’t lean to your own understanding…” “Be meek and humble of heart”.  There are favorite verses of abusers that are consistently used by religious abusers.

Of course those enforcing these statements never apply it to their own lives.

The ideal of “carrying your cross” is one of these undifferentiated formulas. What is the cross made of? Does Christian living mean going out and seeking unnecessary suffering? Does it mean being a martyr or a doormat? If unquestioned or unexamined, these general ideas can remain accepted with harmful results. Unfortunately these are too common for many in the church.

There is enough suffering by being a part of the physical world. There is no need to seek out unnecessary suffering. To do so can become emotionally pathological. “Subduing the flesh” only increases concentration on it. Monks who flaggelate themselves or anyone who invents suffering thinking it is pleasing to God has not understood Jesus.

What was Jesus’ cross? Political power was afraid of him. Religious leaders were afraid of him. That was his cross.  How many of us risk helping others see their freedom and dignity in God even if it upsets political and religious authorities?  His cross involved being willing to die without retaliation, confident in the overcoming life of Spirit. There was no mournful position of taking on what you don’t want to and then wanting others to praise you or building resentment up when they don’t.

In contrast, misusing this idea involves guilting people to do what others want with no relevance to the accurate idea or application to their faith journey. Jesus healing was not a cross. His teaching others was not a cross. His loving children was not a cross. Ironically, others can encourage taking up a cross to please themselves when Jesus’ cross was part of not pleasing people. And he only did it once. He didn’t live that way every day,

Sexual abuse makes headlines but women in religious domestic abuse are not used to seeing their situation in these terms. They may assume their “wifely duty” omits any of their own desires or preferences. Many don’t see domestic abuse  in the continuum of abuse in religious bodies.

Abusive ministers may not have a congregation. Their wives and children are their group. They suffer alone behind closed doors. If they are a part of a church, the church will not support the victim.

The movement is addressing porn addiction, but many wives do not even know their husbands are addicted or that this is abusive to them, since the mindset of porn is objectification of women. Some try to make women feel that they are at fault or deficient if their husbands use porn. Reject this accusation if it is put on you.

The Guidepost organization that has created the report and is handling ongoing deliberations about what needs to be done has a hotline at 202 864 5578 or [email protected]

If you know someone still struggling with faith confusion in religious domestic abuse, direct them to my self-help workbook that will clarify the ideas and tactics used to keep her confused and in bondage thinking it is God’s will and that she will go to hell if she doesn’t stay in the relationship. Redemption from Biblical Battering on Amazon and Kindle.

“It’s hard to fight an enemy with outposts in your head.” -Sally Compton

Although fears of leaving are complex, one thing is sure: no woman has to do it alone. Many have gone before her and are reaching out their hands to her.

I know. I am one of them. And now there are more than ever.

Join the private support group Susannas Sisters on Facebook by contacting me here or at @RedemptionfromBB on Twitter or FB.\

Other resources are found at

@SbcSpeak   on Twitter for SBC Survivors Speak

For Such a Time As This Rally    @SBCForSuchATime

I am involved with DeeAnn Miller in creating a Survivor Retreat for Fall 2022. @writer_dee on Twitter for more information.

Gretchen Baskerville. The Life-Saving Divorce. On FB

Ashley Easter  “Courage 365” on FB

Featured

A Fearful Faith

 Easter approaches to celebrate new life shown in Nature’s spring and thoughts of victory over death.

Where is that victory for those living in religious domestic abuse?

Why would some churches, preaching the belief of life over death, support abusers over victims?

The soul attacks levied against women and men who stay in religious domestic abuse belie the words preached on Easter morning.

The life force in Nature seems stronger than words preached on Easter morning

That’s because, too often, the faith that is promoted is based on fear.

Some organized religion has chosen the side of a static, not a dynamic faith, because of its power to control.

A dynamic faith emphasizes abundant life from the Spirit within. Believers are encouraged to seek their fullest development as pleasing to God. Confidence that God is love, love prevails, is the reason for life. The good is the basis for human relationships. Human dignity works with God to uplift everyone.

A static faith leaves the believer a beggar, relying on power outside of them. A belief that their worth comes from salvation rather than the power of God within. It emphasizes fear and suffering rather than victory. God may or may not answer pleas and the believer never knows just what God’s will means. Even if they do, they have no power to live it.

Nature shows us that there is no life without a Power outside and inside ourselves to keep  us alive. Christ revealed the identity of that Power that dwells within at all times, just as the life force is working in the earth even when we don’t see it.

When churches rob women of faith from claiming their inheritance from the resurrection, they are promoting a fearful faith.

Women are not second-class souls. The power of the resurrection belongs to them as to all believers.

How can you help a fearful believer refuse to be subject to the bondage of religious abuse and claim God-given freedom?

How can you help a religious body claim spiritual equality for victims?

Featured

The Church on the Power and Control Wheel

Most people familiar with the abuse cycle, known as the Power and Control Wheel, realize how important it has been in helping define the toxic tactics of coercive control.

In the early days of identifying domestic abuse, others involved in advocacy had mistakenly thought it was one-dimensional: violent. The Power and Control Wheel, developed out of work with women in shelters, described the wider dimensions of tactics used in abuse or coercive control.

The Wheel was first devised during the 1980s in Duluth, Minnesota by Dr Eilen Pence Since then, it is a key tool for understanding domestic abuse. Victims said it was the first thing that made sense to them, that described what they were going through.

But some churches are saying 40 years later that they are not aware of the problem, even though 1 in 4 members are affected. Or they are saying they don’t know what to do. Or worse, they say it’s none of their business.

So how did some churches become abusive?

Because of publicity and financial pressures, churches are examining practices that contribute or excuse abuse within its leadership or members. Recently the Southern Baptist Convention came to terms with its collusion with abusers after 20 years of victim testimonies, seminary presidents objections and loss of church revenues. The Catholic Church’s story is widely known. But these two groups are by no means the only religious organizations in which abusers are found.

Because the pastor depends on the good reputation of the church, the church image and financial support are the primary concerns. Damage control measures are used:  turning a blind eye and blaming the sufferer preserve their image and group identity.  Group dynamics find ways to remove threats. Social status yields the money and power that feed collusion with church abusers.

Faith cliches are used to avoid accountability or hide offenses. They collude with the predator and blame the abused, primarily because the majority of abusers are men and victims are women  Churches have put upholding male power over helping the hurting, and all that that stance requires. 

Church policies and practices can enforce HALF (4 of 8) of the tactics in the Power and Control Wheel of coercive control.

  1. Minimization, Denial and Blaming*

A victim coming for help to a church leader or member will encounter Denial.  Statements like “Are you sure you’re not overexaggerating?” indicates  they don’t trust the victim. Or the leader might say the husband is “under the devil’s influence”. So it’s the devil, not the abuser. ( Partner is then responsible to pray him out of it, so if that doesn’t work, church will go on to blaming victim.)

Minimization is communicated in statements such as: “He’s under a lot of stress at work.” “He’s had a hard day.” “But look at all the good he does.” “Every marriage has its ups and downs.” “Oh I can’t ever see him doing that kind of thing.”

Blaming is tried the most: “Have you given him enough sex?” “Are you submitting?” “Just pray more.” “Just have faith.” “Your love can save him.” “But he’s such a good father.” “Do you want the kids to not have a father?”
What did you do to provoke him?” “Renew your mind” (Don’t think about what is happening to you.) “Be ye angry and sin not.” (It must be your fault if you are mistreated.)

2 Isolation

Churches members can unofficially shun the victim or actually tell them to leave if they will not “repent” of “gossip” about their partners. If they don’t “forgive” they are accused of being “bitter” “hard hearted” or worse”.

 “The church is made up of sinners” means the victim is wrong to expect them to be helpful. “No church is perfect” means don’t ask them to correct their harmful practices.. “You can’t trust your feelings.” means trust what we say instead. “God is all you need.” means don’t ask us to practice what we preach. “You don’t have enough faith.” is a way of saying  “look to God, not us.” In other words, you are on your own.

3. Emotional Abuse

While the previous tactics are emotionally harmful, there are others as well, like name calling (“Jezebel” “Whore of Babylon”), labeling (feminist, lesbian, disobedient, rebellious), and demeaning jokes about women as silly, weak, or nonsensical. (“Well, you know how women are. What can you expect?”)

Additionally, short of kicking someone out of the church, ignoring can also be used. Invitations can be withheld, phone calls not answered, or removal from email lists without any explanation. Corruption is very harmful. In corruption the victim is warned not to tell anyone, not to “air dirty laundry”, think of the church’s image, and similar threats. Exploitation involves shaming the victim if they don’t cooperate, expressing expectations that they should not hold the abuser responsible, or guilting them for being a victim.

 4. Male Privilege

Coercive male power has been elevated to doctrine in too many churches. Coercive teachings about biblical manhood and womanhood emphasize submission of wives to husbands as their Lord.  Too many do not allow divorce.

One woman told me she would rather suffer hell here by being abused than

forever be in hell because of divorce.

The doctrine of complementarianism steps around equality by teaching the idea of “offices”: that is, partners are equal but are “ordained” to do different things. The effect is inequality, because gender is the standard for offices.

For a time “Christian discipline” was taught, in which a husband could whip his wife to correct her.

Members in destructive relationships find little if any support from pastors or members. They may have contributed funds and volunteered faithfully for years but find the wall against them is solid. It is a one-way relationship: as long as they are helping the church and adhering to the code of acceptable womanhood, they can belong. But if they assert any needs that conflict with church image (male power), they find themselves alone. This is very painful for a woman of faith and further jeopardizes her ability to escape harm.

This is why women are leaving the church. There is no support for them there. It is too painful to remain. They are finding more of Christ’s love and acceptance outside the church.

Church women can help the church get off the wheel and bring them back.

*Dee Ann Miller has invented the term “DIM” thinking as operating in church collusion in abuse. DIM stands for “Denial, Ignorance and Minimization.” DIM allows money and upholding men in power to operate above concern for victims.

Featured

The Evidentiary Abuse Affadavit

Few victims in abusive situations think there is much they can do to defend themselves while in the situation.

But there is!

Born out of the Stacy Peterson case, the E.A.A. was created to insure that the victim’s words about her fears and previous violence will not disappear if she does.

For the victim it is simply documenting their history and experiences in a notarized document. The addition of any type of documentation such as police/hospital reports, photos, letters, emails that help substantiate their stories and DNA samples if possible is always helpful. Having this type of Affidavit would eliminate the hearsay argument that was such a hurdle in the Kathleen Savio case. Making multiple copies will ensure that this information will find it’s way to law enforcement in the event anything should happen to the victim and they cannot testify on their own behalf.

The Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit (E.A.A.) is the mastermind process of violence expert Susan Murphy Milano that combines video taping (of the victims actual words attesting to the abuse) coupled with creative witnessed and notarized legal documents that successfully satisfy legal hurdles often faced in these cases. A unique packaging of testimony, documentation, perpetrator historical profiling, and pre-collected evidence delivered to established safe and legal persons, wrap this delicate issue up for successful prosecution.

See #documenttheabuse.org for more on how to generate this court-worthy evidence.

Featured

A Veteran Survivor and Advocate for Victims of Church Sexual Abuse Reflects on the recent Victory over Collusion within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Many sufferers of religious domestic abuse (RDA) feel they are the only ones going through the trauma, isolated in their homes.

That is because, of those who did reach out to their church leaders, most found no support but blame, guilt, and judgement.

Church leaders, if they are not the perpetrators, have little if any experience understanding religious abuse.

Compound that with teachings that blame the abused and uphold the abuser, and a woman or man will not find the solace and comfort they need by confiding in their faith leader.

It may help religious domestic abuse victims to know that survivors of church sexual abuse (CSA) have been fighting since the 1980s to bring perpetrators to justice and remove them from church leadership.

This decades-long action finally bore fruit when the SBC reversed its decision on October 12 and will allow predators to come to justice.

Dee Ann Miller is one of if not the earliest survivor advocate in this fight. While domestic abuse partners are often sexually abused, many do not understand how these two forms of religious abuse are related. But Miller understands how collusion in the church re-traumatizes everyone. I recently had a conversation with Dee Ann and want my readers to hear her vast background, experience and wisdom.  I hope it gives courage to anyone still fighting alone in her or his home, feeling abandoned by their church.

Take a Steamboat Up the River

One of the most daunting torments to overcome in religious domestic violence is the constant barrage of insults, accusations, and criticisms that surround a wife and can overwhelm her ability to respond to defend herself.

When selected Bible verses and faith concepts are twisted to control through guilt, shame and intimidation, a source of comfort is used against a victim.

When I lived under this verbal abuse, I come across an insight in meditation that helped me turn a torment into a source of strength. I call it the Steamboat method.

A steamboat uses the river it’s on to power its way through the water. It uses an internal fuel to turn wheels which feed off the water. In this way steamboats revolutionized river travel. Formerly they had to be towed up the river by horses on the bank. Now they could make their way up the river under their own power, overcoming resistance to their path.

I applied this method to mentally fortify my mind against verbal assaults. For every namecalling, slander, lie, or degrading word, I mentally reversed it. I was able to actually turn a demeaning negative into a positive.

In my self-help workbook, Redemption from Biblical Battering, I have sample exercises showing how it’s done. After charting the abuse and journaling, I took the list of toxic words and phrases and began listing their opposites.

Each time one would be used, I mentally substituted the positive for it. At this stage of the abuse, it was not safe for me to begin being assertive. But this practice helped free me from ill effects within my mind and heart. It also prepared me for things to say when I did begin to be assertive.

Later I realized that an abuser projects his own faults onto the victim. When my husband accused me of being unfaithful, I found out he himself was having an affair. When he accused me of being a derelict mother, it was his own abandonment he was talking about.

Bible verses can help develop your first counterstatements. Of course it takes energy to do this. So what is your fuel for your engine? Time in quiet, healthy self-nurturing, affirmative prayer and supportive women were my fuel. It kept the engine going to turn my wheels, using the waters of attacks to propel myself forward.

The more attacks, the more my wheels had to turn so I could move in the difficult challenge of going against pressures to submit to abuse.

I hope this analogy or metaphor can help you too. Or find another one that works for you. The Holy Spirit provides the fuel. Christ within is our hope of glory, turning the wheels to feed off of the river of trials. May we reach the safety and peace of a higher port up the river.

Flourishing After Abuse

Summit

featuring 20 professionals sharing their expertise for 12 days this month

Feb. 12-24

Here is the schedule of speakers. I will be sharing Feb. 19th.

  • Anne Nelson- Post-Traumatic Growth: Learning to Trust Yourself and Others Again
  • 2/13/24 Tuesday Kathey Batey: The Decision to Divorce
  • Dale & Faith Ingraham- The Impact and Response to Abuse
  • 2/14/24 Wednesday : Jennifer Lester- Taking back your power – Staying protected as you heal and beyond
  • Diane Schnickels- 3 Key Choices for Healing
  • 2/15/24. Thursday
  • Crystal Williams- How to Rebuild Your Financial Life
  • Angela Chambers- Restored after Divorce
  • 2/16/24 Friday
  • Jolene Underwood- Reconnecting to God’s Heart for You
  • Martha Fry- Self Care for Healing
  • 2/17/25 Saturday
  • Tabitha Westbrook- Healthy Sexuality After Abuse – Inviting Your Body to Something Different
  • Charlene Quint- Overcoming Abuse to Be the Woman You Were Designed to Be
  • 2/18/24 Sunday
  • Kristen Joy- Living Loved Changes Everything
  • Jenny- live zoom with VIP attendees for Q&A and implementation (or Saturday 17th)
  • 2/19/24 Monday
  • Stacey Wynn- Free to Love: Dating after Divorce
  • Shirley Fessel- Thriving After Religious Abuse: Three Keys
  • 2/20/24 Tuesday
  • Amy Elisabeth- Healing with Holy Spirit
  • Caprice Crebar- Nutrition and Healing
  • 2/21/24 Wednesda
  • Jess Nagy- Raising Resilient Kids
  • Dr. Susie Mierzwik- The IOUs of Rising from the Ashes
  • 2/22/24 Thursday
  • Bridget Goodwin- Finding Your Voice After Sexual Trauma
  • Mark Waters- Financial Recovery from Domestic Violence
  • 2/23/24 Friday
  • LeAnne Parsons- Buckle up your Boundaries with the Belt of Truth
  • Jenny- Embracing Your God-given Identity
  • 2/24/24 Saturday
  • Dr. Yve Ruiz- Free at Last: Embrace Engendering to an Extraordinary You!
  • Jennifer Lester- Breaking Bonds Ritual
  • 2:25/24 Sunday
  • Colleen Ramser- Reconnected Faith After Spiritual Abuse
  • Jenny- wrap up for all attendees
  • -live zoom for VIP attendees, Q&A and implementation
  • LikeComment
  • Repost

Religious Domestic Abuse is not about marriage or faith. 

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.

Motherhood, Domestic Abuse and Family Court

I did not want to mar the good parts of Mothers’ Day so I waited to post this disturbing report.

Yesterday reports from Child Welfare Monitor said there is a Family Court crisis of placing children with abusive parents, some of whom die.

I am not including the horrible way some of the children were murdered by their abusive fathers.

The Center for Judicial Excellence has data on 707 children

murdered by divorcing parents since 2008.

The primary reason: courts do not believe the mother, usually the protective parent, in spite of documented abuse.

Mothers going to family court are advised by their attorneys not to mention their abuse. If so, they often lead to adverse custody rulings.

Immediately some raise what sounds like common sense objections. Fathers have been mistreated by courts. Mothers can be abusive too. On and on. This is known as false equivalency: treating every idea as if of it’s of equal weight and validity.

But just as in church arguments that a women “must have done something” to warrant abuse, there is no justification for courts awarding unsupervised visitation or sole custody to fathers with documented abuse.

Last year Texas courts doubled down on protecting parents accused of abuse. Federal monitors report Texas child welfare system exposed children to harm.

Texas is not alone. Kentucky is documented as the worst. In politically conservative states a backlash against women’s rights has doubled down by removing children from women seeking asylum from domestic abuse through family court rulings.

Some might say this is due to low educational levels or poverty. But a common denominator in these states is also a fundamentalist religion that argues against education outside the home, which leads to poverty. Women not allowed to work in a two-income society exacerbates this problem.

Rather than a chicken-egg dilemma, churches are responsible for the results of what they preach and teach to believers. When a religious leader enforces second class status for women through enforced motherhood and submission, the results are predictable.

The influence of the recent evangelical pressure on officials and candidacy for legislative and judicial offices shows a clear path to the increased weaponization of courts against mothers seeking protection for themselves and their children from abusive fathers.

Since statistics clearly show that most victims of domestic abuse are women, it is fair to say that this majority would translate to the number of women seeking divorce and custody in family court.

The hypocrisy of a religious view that sees women as only sexual or submissive has become fatal in these cases. The attempt to keep women housed and having children is couched in pious terms, but the reality of the treatment of mothers in systems administered by adherents to this misogyny counters this piety.

Mothers are in agony this Mothers’ Day from unjustly losing their children to courts influences by those who say motherhood is the highest calling for women and that they should stay home and be submissive to men.

Just as the abortion bans enforce motherhood, the family courts are enforcing submission to abuse for those mothers. The message is clear: submit or lose your kids.

It appears that male entitlement has no limits to what they will do to keep women controlled in the name of God.

Anyone familiar with domestic abuse knows that abusive fathers often use the children as leverage to stay in control of the mother. Their motivation is not concern for children.

Often they seek sole custody to avoid paying child support. As a school counselor, I have often seen fathers with sole custody using older daughters to take care of the home and siblings or worse. This prevents her from furthering her education or working.

Parents we  had to hotline would routinely withdraw their children to “homeschooling” and  move to a town in the state known by authorities to uphold abuse, and where their practices were reinforced by the evangelical church.

The application of misogynist religious ideas has become fatal in cases of unsupervised visitation or sole custody given to abusive fathers in family courts.

Weaponizing courts is not new. Racism and sexism have done it since America was founded. Women and children as a man’s property was common then. We were supposed to have outgrown this ignorance and evil.

But instead some states have regressed even further. States supporting misogyny in the name of God have officials removing children from a protective mother’s care. Happy Mothers day sermons are a mockery and children are dying.

What’s wrong with forgiveness?

The benefits of forgiveness are well known. By releasing resentments, the person who has been harmed can be healed of the pain of mistreatment and stop allowing the harmful person to live “rent free” in their head and heart.

So why is it hard to hear someone else encourage a mistreated wife or child to forgive? Because too often that is not what is meant. Instead the person suffering is being asked to not hold the person who harmed them accountable.

It’s just another cruel example of using a faith concept to re-traumatize a suffering believer.

Self-righteous platitudes are not compassion. They are backhanded negative judgments pretending to be helpful.

What makes the accuser think the aggrieved person has not forgiven? Can s/he see in their heart?

What they usually mean is that they don‘t want to hear the aggrieved person talk about their pain, about the reality of having been violated, because it means that the listener might need to do something helpful or healing. Or face that they are supporting wolves in sheep’s clothing.

This is the type of arrogant attempt to socially coerce the person who has been harmed in order to let the harmful person off the hook. A favorite label is telling the woman she is “bitter” if she is honest about being hurt. 

Here are some of the problems with urging a victim to forgive  

Continue reading “What’s wrong with forgiveness?”

Following the Light in You

“Christ in you, your hope of glory.” – Col 1:27

I love this verse, and it strengthened me in my struggle to escape religious domestic abuse.

But how does it work?

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower his followers. These powers include guidance, comfort, and healing. But the major truth to remember for those living in abuse is power.

The entire work and message of Jesus is to elevate human lives. During this season, globally, Christmas is celebrated as light overcoming darkness.

A woman living in religious domestic abuse are given platitudes about why she should stay, try harder, pray harder, save her husband, and other man-made teachings that only serve to keep her in bondage to the abuser mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

This is not Jesus’ message and He left the Holy Spirit to dwell within us when we face such challenges to our relationship with Christ.

Wealthy foreign wisdom keepers traveled to honor the presence they saw shining from afar. Humble people came to see their hope for a better life, an escape from oppression and cruel domination of governments.

There is no indication that the birth of the Christ child would leave people in suffering. The joy was in the opposite expectation.

How is your relationship with Christ living with a rager, a person disrespecting whom he is supposed to love as Christ loved us?  A person who cannot control his own spirit as the Proverbs urge? The Proverbs are in the Old Testament, so Jesus called us to even higher relationships. The abuser you are with is not even meeting old Jewish standards of marriage, much less Christian love.

The reasons you stay are many or perhaps just one. But before all else, I had to believe I could be free. I knew that my heart could not hold a close relationship with Christ when confronted daily by hatred. To honor and commune with the Holy Spirit within that Jesus sent me, I had to have the power to leave. And I knew it was God’s will I do. I believed I would be guided and supported in refusing degradation. I would have power.

May you honor the Holy Spirit given to God’s beloved. May you rejoice in the birth of Jesus, a  man with God’s spirit within, who preached liberty to the captives.

including you.