1Peter 5:2-3 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
The following letter will raise your blood pressure. BP alert. An abuse survivor shared it with me after she received it from her (now ex) pastor. For decades she was subjected to ongoing abuse from a wicked husband, and her pastor admitted that her husband in fact abused her. That fact was not even in dispute in this case. But as you will see as you read, the pastor demanded that she submit to him (the pastor) and he ordered her to….well, you can read it for yourself. This letter was sent to her by the pastor when she separated from her abuser and was making plans to divorce him.
Hello _____,The elders have reviewed your email and my response below. They’ve reviewed and approved both my email before and this one now. We’ve come to agree and do now insist that you not move forward with divorce until we have the time needed to sort out P’s profession of faith as true or false through church discipline. And if he is determined (as best we can according to Jesus’ words vs P’s actions), then we would aim to figure out if he is still consenting to live with you.[Your biblical counselor] has also reviewed my email independently as a counselor (in the biblical sense) close to your situation and agrees with the content of my response. She empathizes greatly with the turmoil associated with how long this process is taking and is helping us keep your pain and longsuffering in the forefront of our hearts and minds. If anything this latest posture of his ought to (though deeply grieving) also inspire more confidence and faith in Jesus’ process of confrontation and church discipline. As I stated below I believe we will know soon whether P has been pretending to be a Christian or is truly repentant. Jesus designed his words to turn up the heat of accountability and to produce results. I believe we are seeing that now.At this moment, we as elders agree with one another, standing on God’s word, that your decision to move toward divorce is unwarranted biblically and is disobedience to Jesus’ very words in Matthew 19:6 that says “what God has joined together, let not man separate.”Your posture, though full of suffering and pain, ought to be driven not by the feelings induced by that pain, but by faith in God’s word and provision of strength for you and promise to complete you in and through this process. As the pastors who will give an account for your soul, we insist that you continue to follow the heroes of the faith as described in Hebrews 11 who all chose the more difficult road of suffering out of a resolved faith in God for the ultimate reward on the other side. Even Moses, “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Hebrews 11:26.Sister, do not believe the lie that says to choose to suffer is foolish or bad stewardship. That is a lie from hell that says we should avoid suffering even if it means going against God’s word, and that is what seems like you are beginning to embrace. To do so is to question Jesus’ own embrace of the cross and every Christians’ embrace of suffering in faith (before and since the cross).Please email, call, or text me as soon as possible to confirm that you are will not be telling your children of your plan to divorce. And please stand by as me and another elder meet with P as soon as he is willing, or move toward escalated confrontation in person if he is not.”
For the safety and emotional protection of the victim and her children I understand it is prudent not to reveal the pastors name, but I would love to see that church, the evil pastor, his counselor and his deacon board that approved this letter to a victim to get hammered with emails of disgust. I covered my mouth in horror as I read this.
And this kind of thing happens all the time in churches
Still shaking my head after reading this. It makes me so angry that anyone, including pastors, elders and other members of a church, think they have the ability to assess another person’s marriage and make the decision as to whether divorce is okay for them or not.
I never had anything near this evil happen to me at my former church, but never received any support from the pastor or the elders. The pastor actually called me into his office about 6 months after my then-husband had walked out on me and I went in truly thinking that finally he was going to support my decision to divorce my abusive husband. Do you know what he had to say to me?? As I sat there actually feeling hopeful for once that someone say the evilness of my husband, my bubble was burst when the pastor said he wanted to make sure I understood how much a divorce was going to cost. 🙁
I told him he had no idea what that marriage had cost me and my children, and that I could guarantee him that divorcing that man would be much less costly.
And this pastor sent her more letters even after she resigned from the church – one letter in particular that was even worse than this one. I wonder if in such cases you could have an attorney send the pastor a cease and desist or else letter?
That would be interesting to find out, after all, it’s a form of harassment, at least in my eyes and especially since she’s already left the church.
Yes, a lawyer can absolutely write a cease and desist letter, citing the emotional harm these harassing letters are causing. The letter writer can be sued for doing this. (I have a lawyer friend who has other lawyer friends – comes in handy for advice and info!)
The only problem with lawyers is that they cost money most of the time – but not always.
Sorry for the late reply, and thank you for this article and the wonderful comments!
Thank you Em. Good info.
Wow. The shepherd leaves the flock and goes in search of the lost one? Not so much.
I’ve been wallowing in the church response to abuse sewer for about 5 years now and have come to believe, that there are two primary sources for the behavior cataloged in the shared letter.
First is seminary. The feel-good, cheap grace theology that is taught in today’s religious prep schools has natural consequences in the real world. Nobody is guilty, everybody is saved, while at the same time remaining in a state of total depravity. How can we accuse anybody of anything that we each are not guilty of? Slander? We’ve all done it to some degree, right? Lying? Who hasn’t done it? Breaking even one law, I stand as one who has broken them all. This teaching takes away ANY ability for ANYBODY to judge ANYONE. Counseling being taught in Seminary is virtually worthless for the same reason–Counselors must accept it all and help people feel good about who they are rather than show them the destructive path they are on and how to get on a better one, because these actions require judgement and discretion, which is rule number one now being taught: JUDGE NOT. God is Love. God is the God of second chances. Blah, blah, blah. Repentance is saying you’re sorry and moving on.
Second is the nature of the “helping” professions (such as pastors and counselors). People in these categories are inclined to want to help the sick and the lost, to hold the head of the one who is vomiting. Their compassion gets in the way of actually doing the very things that are appropriate with abusers; they struggle to leave even one behind. They pick up every snake, attempt to pet every wolf, caress every hornet. And if you won’t join them in what they call “Love,” you become the only one in their view who should be shunned.
Abusers thrive in the world created by the confluence of these two ideas. There isn’t a finer petri dish for growing deadly bacteria in church. It’s a cultural media that presents the perfect conditions to attract and grow some of the nastier organisms in humanity.
Now mind, my church experience has also involved some time in the ditch on the other side of the road, where everybody is judged and everybody is a candidate for the shun. I know what it’s like to live with idea that “God’s man/woman isn’t overweight or doesn’t bite their fingernails,” where every aspect of life is material to be judged and “sorted.” So please don’t hear me advocating for this approach as an alternative for the church eaten up with abusers. As a whole, the church today is VERY far away from such abuses. We bend over backwards to avoid the very appearance of judgement while evil is staring us right in the face.
The church, for the largest part, is blind. But one of the key purposes for suffering is to help us see. So while its very sad that many are struggling against naked abuse in very personal ways, the suffering they are enduring and exposing through channels such as this one is necessary for the flock to begin to question their pastors, doctrine and practice they’ve been perniciously taught for decades.
May God have mercy on us and grant us discernment and wisdom, sorely lacking.
Dear Pastor Crippen, oh those churchian creeps have all the answers–ugh! What they don’t understand is: a wife cannot submit to a psyco-gamer; he will always be changing the rules, on purpose.
Sue- yes. Creeps. I will never recommend anyone see a “biblical counselor.” That movement in counseling is enslaving. These pastors who do what this one does are not merely naive. They are arrogant tyrants.
Well perhaps this phony servant of Christ would like to point us to passages where women are called to suffer for Christ in their marriages because Heb 11 tells no such thing. These are horrible misinterpretations of God’s Word. If they choose to use Abigail, then they will also have to say that women were not permitted to divorce their spouses in the OT, but were given that right by Jesus in the NT. He will also have a hard time showing that an abuser is living in consent with his victim, because the word “consent” means to live agreeably with the victim, not abuse her. We are called to peace as Christians and living in abuse is not peace. She has full right to divorce any man who refuses to live at peace with her.
What a judgment awaits these false leaders who operate under the law and not by the spirit of grace and mercy.
Valerie Greenlaw Wolff
I have no words. I am an MSW in private practice providing counseling for over 30 years. The past 3 years, I have had three women (all from the same church, which is no coincidence) who have been “encouraged” to stay in their abusive marriages. I am probably on this pastor’s “don’t trust a secular counselor” list – even though I am a devout Christian – because of the help I have provided in helping the women to make their own decisions in regards to their marriage.
This letter you published makes me not only angry but also ill. My one other concern (everybody else did a great job of mentioning most of my concerns inherent in this letter) is the beginning of the sentence “as the pastors who will give an account for your soul” strikes to the heart of the matter in the sense that they think it is their God-given right to control her decision-making. So much for free will on her part. And, so for selfish reasons, they think she needs to stay so they don’t get in trouble with God? How self-serving is that? Anyway, I just shake my head whenever I hear that misconception from pastors. Just like the concept that the husband is responsible for his wife’s salvation, which is another erroneous belief. Anyway – thank you for your blog, Pastor Jeff. God bless.
Thank you very much Valerie. I fully agree. There is probably more than one rotten attitude in these kind of pastors and their groupies. But I am sure that mere naïveté cannot explain such malpractice. I believe it is an evil, arrogant self-exalting mindset and a mix of seeing women as inferior beings who at least in part get what they bring upon themselves. I have been a pastor for 36 years and with VERY few exceptions I have no respect for pastors.
They are saying to her, “Uou, with all your Yeats of daily 3xperience with him are not smart enough, discerning enough, privileged enough (?), important enough, wise enough to make a determination of sincerity in this persons show of remorse. Only WE, who have never spent more than a few hours total with him and only on his best behavior, can determine what is best for you.” It’s beyond offensive, arrogant, pharisaichal.
Nailed it Debby. Yep. These guys are gods in their own eyes. Popes.
Why do church congregants as well as pastors not recognize abuse as oppression that a child/daughter of God needs to be freed from and not further enslaved by?
There is a pretty amazing promise in Isaiah about your light rising when you help the oppressed get free from their prison! (I assume the opposite is true when the oppressed are sentenced to more years of oppression by those who shepherd the flock)!
I have a neighbour who is ‘god fearing elder’ family
& who told me she supports moms but it has become obvious to me that her support is not for single mom’s, only married ones.
I and my child have escaped horrific abuse and oppression and I am still fighting a mortal fight on behalf of my child who is still required to live 1/2 time with her father who continues to be physically abusive toward our child . Our CPS continues to support my ex’s access to our child!
Every time I see this lady she mentions to me how bad divorce is, even thought she knows I did not have a choice but to escape. I originally went to her as a fellow believer but she told me to pray though stormie omartians the praying wife book and to dump the fear and hold his toes to the fire. Yikes, that’s what got me physically abused in the first place – confronting my abuser and trying to hold his toes to the fire!
She had been praying for me and she told me I should stay with my abuser??? I still shake my head since she knew he was physically abusing us, visiting massage parlours, drinking and raging at me in front of our children, financially abusing us ….!
How can a believer be told by another believer to endure this & stay? Why is the concern for his unrepentant soul more important than the safety of the rest of the family?
Someone put it out on the prayer line ‘anonymously’ that there were no good options when we separated!!
How can believers be so willfully blind and get it so wrong?
To me separation from blatant destructive evil and the ongoing fight for the freedom of my children was my only option and it really was a good one.
God helped me escape my abuser despite this kind of help! I see it as an amazing deliverance with God walking beside me and helping me akin to His deliverance of the Israelites! I am so sad that my fellow believers could not see God’s amazing hand pulling me out of this terrible situation and the miracles he worked legally in allowing me to stay in my home against all odds! I am rejoicing but sad for all that seem so blind and stuck suppprtong evil and getting it wrong, upside down and backwards! Your ministry and a few others is where I found truth spoken and the courage and validation of the right way to proceed in face of evil and invalidation in front of me!
My fight is far from over but I am praising God for the discovery of a counsellor that I am praying will be a voice and hopefully instrumental in helping my child after 4 years of fighting to get a pair of eyes on the situation. Please pray for her safety as she continues to live in danger as sentenced by the courts and child protection system!
Starlight – short answer: they aren’t really Christians. Oh, for a time a Christian can get things wrong for sure. But the Spirit in them will guide them into truth. When you have someone who claims to be a Christian but who refuses to see and acknowledge the truth regarding evil and regarding God’s merciful character, they show themselves to be Pharisees. The Pharisees were children of the devil as Jesus told them. So are these kind today who oppress the oppressed “in Christ’s name.” He does not know them. “That means there are lots of people who say they are Christians but aren’t” you say? Yep. That is the truth.
My Heart breaks for this woman. Those to whom she turned in her hour of need, those whom she TRUSTED, became one of the instruments of abuse in her life. But it is so very often like this. It would seem as if it is, in fact, the rule rather than the exception. I talk often with two of my sisters(in Christ) often about this very issue. They are pastors wives and both engage in Christian counseling with members of their respective congregations, and privately as well.
These ladies and their pastor husbands have gone to learning seminars concerning counseling and have come away greatly disturbed by the prevalent existence of this mentality across the board. What is worse, is that they have gone to seminars on Domestic Violence in the church, and report that one of the primary issues is how to keep the wife IN the abusive relationship so that she remains under the authority of the church.
So when we say this happens way too much, that’s a huge truth. Christian Counselors are actually being taught that it is scripturally WRONG of a woman to leave a marriage in order to protect her life and the lives of her children! Nothing could be further from the truth of course.
What hurts so much, is that as an advocate and abuse recovery mentor, I come across this type of scenario all too often. The damage that these men and women face is next to unequal (I rank it with the Inquisition of the middle ages). I myself came from a church home that had joined with my abuser to enforce his abuse of me. I was eventually put out of the church as an unrepentant disobedient wife. I was not to call the police for him beating me black and blue. I was not to stand up to him but submit to sexual abuse (they didn’t believe he was selling me but that I was instead an adulterer) no one believed me about anything. Even when I had 27 black and blue welts from my neck to my ankles from a beating with a belt that I took for one of my children (she wasn’t his, but was instead was one of his “client’s” children)…..somehow I was the bad one. I must have done something to deserve it. I even took the stand against the state case for abuse (my neighbor had called the police), in which he was exonerated by a jury of 6 women. That is when they put me out. I was supposed to take the stand and apologise to my husband and testify to events as he said it all happened (as I was subpoenaed to testify so I couldn’t refuse as I had been counseled to) I DIDN’T take the stand and tell the “truth” that they told me I had to tell as a sign of contrition. WHY would I get punished by MY CHURCH for NOT lying?????? Praise God he led me to a real church family.
I received a similar letter from my pastors. I had gone to them a year before asking for church discipline. They did very little. When I finally got a restraining order, I received a letter saying I should step down from my leadership positions in the church unless I was willing to take steps to reconcile. I wrote back, since I have a restraining order, I will not be reconciling, so I will be stepping down. I left the church
Good job Caroline. This business is by no means rare in churches. In fact it is the norm. It is bullying. As your request of them demonstrated, their realm of authority was dealing with the sinning abuser, not with ordering the victim to continue in the abuse. It is spiritual malpractice.
Crippen. I really need a Church family. Really. I can’t find one here in Pennsylvania. I thought I found a non abusive Church but as always as soon as there is a problem their true colors show. It is so painful that it makes me shake. I really want to be with God’s people. I pray that you will be here preaching till Jesus comes to take us home. Cause I see the spirit in you. It is soooooooooo painful to hear something good from a pastor and see him act the complete opposite than what he was preaching on.
Wow, I read this post after watching “The Burning Bed,” …an old abuse movie from what, 1980? It was based on a TRUE story. All through the movie the abused wife constantly sought help, from her family, from his family, from the police, social services, etc. Everywhere she turned it was a closed door for one ‘reason’ or another. (I don’t believe she did seek help through the church, but if she had, I think she might have received more of the same ‘help,’ which was no help at all.) This woman ultimately murdered her husband. She was acquitted via her ‘temporary insanity’ plea, which, who knows, maybe in this case, it was genuine ‘temporary insanity.’ My point is, abused people face rejection and are ostracized every where in society, but the church should be at least ONE place an abuse victim can turn with the assurance of understanding and, at minimum, referrals to legitimate agencies that can help. If the victim is a member of a church, the leadership should take a critically active stand in seeing the victim is treated with utmost compassion and that the abuser be confronted and removed from church membership.