A Typical Horror Story from an Old Box of Church Records

Prepare to be freaked out:

When a separation has taken place by the desertion of one spouse, the other is not automatically free to marry someone else. Paul’s counsel is to remain unmarried or be reconciled. The primary point is that reconciliation of a divided couple is always God’s will, not the seeking for someone who is a more compatible match. [From a study of divorce and remarriage by the board members and pastor of Idaville Bible Church, Tillamook, Oregon, 1986].

I have been the pastor of Christ Reformation Church (once known as Idaville Bible Church) for 26 years now. Not long after I came here, I was nosing through some old church records that were stuffed away in boxes in an attic. I couldn’t read them for very long. I saw turnover after turnover of pastors and I myself was in the midst of efforts to drive me away at that time. Recently, in cleaning out the old records, our church secretary found a file labeled “Divorce and Remarriage – Special Study by the Deacon Board.” Yikes! I checked it out. The above quote is taken from it.

Here are some more things I found. This is the typical stuff that turns into a horror story for victims of abuse who are Christians and who go to their pastor and church body for help.

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Pastoral Care Has Its Limits and Must Allow for the Priesthood of the Believer

One of the recurring themes we hear from Christians who are abuse victims/survivors is that when they went to their pastor or church for help, reporting the abuse, they were told that they must remain with their abuser or at most separate from him for a time, always working toward reconciliation.

In all cases like this, we have seen pastors and churches “shepherding” or “caring for” the victim and abuser — as they put it. And behind all of this there has been an attitude or conviction or doctrine of the church and of the pastorate and even of the nature of the individual Christian that essentially says “we will mediate Christ to you.” It is quite Roman Catholic actually. The thing is much like a formal priesthood which behaves as if the individual Christian is led and directed by the church, unable on their own to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd. And yet:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me  (John 10:14)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

Every real Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and is led by the Spirit (See Romans 8; Galatians 5:16ff). Every real Christian is thereby enabled to understand Scripture.

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This is Why Most Pastors and Churches Ally with the Abuser

1Co 5:1-2  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  (2)  And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you….1Co 5:6  Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

Recently I was corresponding with an abuse victim whose church was commanding her to remain married to her abuser “because Jesus calls us to stay in suffering.” In the course of our conversation I told her that this church was going to welcome her abuser into the church and end up rejecting her. I am no prophet. Nor am I brilliant. It’s just that after seeing this very scenario unfold countless times it becomes a pretty safe bet to tell someone what to expect. Not too long later she wrote back and said “you called it. Yep. They invited him to be in church.”

Why is it then that churches and pastors and people who we thought were our friends end up allying with the wicked man (or wicked woman if the wife is the abuser)?

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Let’s Put This “But he hasn’t physically abused you” Nonsense to Rest Once and For All

Listen to these far too common words from a pastor to an abused wife who has gone to him for help. The abuse has occurred for decades, habitually, without repentance:

From what I have been told, you have suggested that your husband’s looking at inappropriate images on the internet is adultery,  but he has not committed the physical act .  Could this not be more appropriately handled with counseling than divorce? From what I have been told your husband has not deserted you but conversely is willing to go to a counselor of your choice. You have intimated that your husband has not physically abused you, but has said mean things in the past and has been manipulative.  Again, could this not be more appropriately handled with counseling rather than with divorce?

There it is. “He has not committed the physical act of adultery. He has not physically abused you. Therefore, tough it out and quit complaining. Why, your husband is even willing to come down here to the church building with you and let me counsel the two of you.”

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Come Out From Them and Be Separate – “But He’s Your Husband”

2Co 6:14-18 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (15) What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (17) Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, (18) and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

I once had a target of an abuser tell me how her pastor and other members of her church and her parents were pressuring her to remain married to her abuser. They were giving her the usual gibberish about divorce not being permitted by God, do a better job submitting to him, and all the typical lines used by the usual suspects in these cases.

Her response to them was classic:

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The Abusive Marriage Wrongly Seen as Pious Asceticism

Colossians 2:16-23 ESV Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (17)  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (18)  Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, (19)  and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (20)  If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– (21)  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (22)  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? (23)  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

One of the reasons Christians so often pile a huge and even dangerous burden onto the victimized spouse of an abuser is the crazy notion that her suffering is somehow pleasing to God.  Asceticism is the “severe treatment of the body” that supposedly helps a person defeat their temptations and sins — whipping one’s back, crawling up stairs on one’s knees — that sort of thing.  Scripture counters any such notion — “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”  When the Lord Himself brings trials into our lives, trials from which at the moment there is no escape, that is one thing.  He means this for our good and for His glory.  Paul’s thorn in the flesh, whatever that was, is an example.  Paul however would have escaped this thorn if the Lord had made it possible.

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Ephesians 5:11 and Exposing Evil – A Real Case

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible . (Eph 5:11-13)

Jesus exposed evil. The Light of the World does that. His people are the light of the world and we are to do the same evil-exposing that He did. His Word shows us the pattern:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (Matthew 23:25)

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4:14-15)

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10)

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. (1 Cor 5:1-2)

Need I go on? This is the pattern of Light exposing evil as God commands. Is it the typical pattern we see in churches now? Hardly.

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