Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Beware of Marriage "Intensives" and Other Quickfix Programs

John 3:7 ESV  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

With some frequency I receive reports from domestic abuse victims/survivors about how they were directed to various types of short term programs that promised a cure for their marriage. A common name for such scams is “marriage intensives” though other titles probably are used as well. The idea is that the abuser and his/her spouse go away together and participate in counseling and other exercises, the goal of which is that in a few days or less, “the Lord will wonderfully heal things.”
It’s a scam.

First of all, in most of these cases, huge fees are charged. One lady reported that she had to pay $7000 for the “intensive retreat.” God, you know, doesn’t charge for salvation or miracles! But these scam artists do. Think of it! Seven thousand dollars! And how many abuse victims can easily afford that? This is nothing less than robbing from widows and orphans.
A second aspect of these reports concerns the outcome of the thing. Victims find a huge new load of guilt and blame put upon them because quite commonly the message given them directly is, “you have been disrespecting your husband.” Anyone who knows much of anything knows full well this is a load of garbage. Abusers abuse because they are abusers. It is who they are and what they do regardless of how the victim tries to please them. But these counselor wolves in wool won’t have that. They need to fake a cure, so they blame the victim and order her to repent.
God does not work in this way. As Jesus told Nicodemus, speaking of the new birth, the Holy Spirit is like the wind. You cannot see Him, but you can see the things He effects. This means that the Spirit of God cannot be manipulated or scheduled. He cannot be pressed into a mold of some “intensive” and made to be obligated to work. What, in fact, you have in these weekend conjurings is a form of magic – sorcery if you will. The “counselors” mix up their potions in the cauldron and dispense it, then pronounce a miracle accomplished.
The miracle lasts at best a few days.
I have no hesitation to pronounce these things to be false hopes offered by false teachers. Don’t fall for them. As I always, always, always say, abusers never change. A marriage to an abuser does not need to be fixed, it needs to be ended.


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  1. wingingit

    Yup. You hit the nail on the head.
    After paying an unreasonable amount for one of these “miracle weekend” events, I came to see that they are basically brainwashing camps.
    My husband and I were told to make a list of every single offense the other had perpetrated against them.
    Then we were to go aline to our hotel room upstairs where a “Biblically trained witness” would meet us.
    Then He got to go first, he was to read an item, in front of the “witness counselor” then I was to read a script back to him, repeating the offense exactly as he said it, in the appropriate spaces and repenting, asking forgiveness, and then making a promise to him and TO GOD to never do it again.
    My ex’s list was 4 pages long, and included things like refusing to hide things he did and said to me from my family (including him watching me nearly die from a hemmhorage) and refusing to hide the fact that our cars and homes had been repossessed and foreclosed due to his non-payment. We had moved at least once a year up to that point, pretty hard to hide.
    I had to repent for going to therapy and discussing our marriage and going to church pastors….and promise to never do it again.
    After every “transgression” I repeated, I had to let him grab me and “hug” me, quite roughly, while the “witness” watched the whole spiritual rape taking place.
    It was one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life. I became so overwhelmed that I begged them to stop it and told them it was spirit rape.
    I was chastised for being melodramatic.
    I was literally staggering under this abuse. After the “witness” watched me do his list over a period of about 2 hours, she announced that it was up to him and me to do the list of his offenses against me in private on our own.
    You see, men do not handle having their pride wounded in front of others, so to have a witness to their humiliation would be too much.
    As soon as she was out of the room, he announced that he was not doing his list and that he wanted sex.
    The next day all the couples had to stand up and announce before everyone how their marriage had been restored. This room full of ragged looking women and grinning men was a horrible place.
    I ran from the room crying after listening to these couples “testimonies” for only a few minutes.
    Such evil done in the name of God.
    It is evil that religious people have found so many ways to profit from keeping women trapped in abuse.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Evil evil evil. Such people should be sued.

    • Deborah

      I sat here crying as I read this. How horrible! My husband of 2.5 years and I are currently separated – for the umteenth time…..now over 5 months, due to his spiritual, emotional and psychological abuse. He is: an attorney, a Dr. of Clinical Psych. AND an ordained minister. He has been pressuring me that ‘enough time’ has passed, and that now we need to forgive and forget…..I am hesitant. Our lives have been continuous cycles of this……. I do not want to repeat another cycle, I am 69, and I am…………. TIRED.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Cycle is the key word here round and round it goes. He will never change. Never. So sorry for all the misery he has put you through. May the Lord bless and guide you.

      • Deborah,
        When I stepped back from my marriage my husband did the same thing – he let some time pass but then he gave me an ultimatum. Either I was to return to our marriage as if nothing was wrong or he was “going to have to do something.” I didn’t want to find out what he meant by that and I filed for divorce.
        Yes, it is very TIRING! As Pastor Crippen said – “May God bless and guide you.” God both blessed and guided me, and he still does every moment.

  2. frankiesmith2064

    Winging it
    I’m so sorry you had to endure that in an attempt to save your marriage. I know that God sees your pain and will reward you accordingly in this world and the next. He will also reward your anti husband, your fake counselor and every fake church person that participated in your pain.
    May gods peace and blessing be on you forever.

  3. L

    I think these “marriage intensive weekend retreats” should be identified and named – the name of the retreat and / or church hosting them.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Good idea. Any Focus on the Family fixes ought to be totally avoided. I will see if I can find other names.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Also Peacemaker retreats based on Ken Sande’s book. Bad news.

    • L

      Thank you for naming some of these retreats.
      I was wondering if the Catholic “Retrouvaille” weekend counseling and post weekend program falls into the same category. I imagine it would…Their website says:
      “The Retrouvaille Program is for Married Couples Facing Difficult Challenges in their Relationship….Many lawyers and judges send couples to Retrouvaille as a prerequisite to filing for a divorce or rendering final decisions. Many marriage counselors and family therapists send their clients to Retrouvaille as a prerequisite to counseling. These professionals know that the tools of communication in marriage taught in the program are often what couples need.”
      It is a good reminder that these retreats, which cost a lot of money, should be viewed with skepticism like snake oil. Thank you, Jeff, for reminding us of this.
      I have learned (the hard way) that “communication” with a Narcissistic abuser is impossible as it is always full of gas lighting, lies and mind games and a dizzying amount of contradictory accusations and double standards to manipulate and control whatever you say or do to and then use it against you in astounding ways.
      That is why it is also helpful to be frequently reminded that a marriage to such an abuser like this needs to be ended, not fixed.
      Communication with these people also needs to be No Contact and everything in writing.
      Yet even with everything in writing, my abuser still manages to send me an average of up to 600 emails a year, using the same tactics described above (gas ligthing, rule changes, double standards, distorting even written words to use against me), in order accuse me of not communicating if I don’t respond to every single one of his emails in the exact manner he demands, (by the way no parenting coordinator, judge, lawyer or guardian ad litem wants to read our emails – and is also very deliberately expensive to keep track of as evidence for court and have others read). I have since learned to write 1 email a month to respond briefly in a sentence or two to address the main topics in all of his emails sent each week/month (B.I.F.F. emails by Bill Eddy).
      In the case of child custody I am hoping the Massachusetts child custody laws will change to be more like the California laws and allow for “Parallel Parenting,” which allow for little to no contact with the other parent without punitive action. The MA custody laws are very “communication” focused with strong Father’s Rights lobbing and donations and punishes the other parent for seeking boundaries, limiting contact and communication against the abusive parent.
      The confusing, duping “fog” that comes with having to be in constant communication with such a person prolongs the trauma and abuse. The communication is nothing but a pretense to be manipulated by the abuser for the sole purpose to undermine and harm (alienate) the parent / child relationship — creating stress and confusion — (which means it harms your parent/child relationship, since the abuser does not have any real relationships and is never stressed or confused).
      In the states like CA and MA where the Father’s Rights groups are very strong (because a lot of people make a lot of money off off contentious custody battles), a Parallel Parenting Plan would help mitigate opportunities for the abuser to play these kinds of manipulative games under the pretense of “communicating.”

  4. Mia

    Thank you – you nailed this. The spiritual and emotional abuse I endured in my marriage was severe. The physical abuse left me needing surgery and years of physical follow-on care – only to have been told to go to such an intensive workshop with the abuser! Your message was spot on Jeff, it is a relief to see someone actually understand how dangerous it is to even consider a marriage intensive course with an abuser. I was terrified of even being in a courtroom with the abuser, and completely stunned by the audacity any professing Christ follower to tell me that the marriage intensive course, several overnight same-room stay requirements included, would cure the “problem”.

    • Jeff Crippen

      If you think about this, you can see that these people who recommend and push this stuff embrace a completely false theology that the Bible knows nothing of. Their gospel and doctrine of salvation is wrong and evil.

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