Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

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I Have Married three Abusers — Am I stupid?

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:15-18)

Over the years in this ministry to abuse victims we have been fairly regularly contacted by victims who are not only presently married to an abuser but who have been married previously to other abusers. And in most cases they are asking themselves, “Just how stupid can I be?” Or, “What is wrong with me?” Or, “Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?”  These questions and more.

I suspect many of you who follow this blog can relate very well to this scenario. And many people who are ignorant of abuse and abusers will be quick to answer those questions  — “Well, yes, you must be stupid.”  “Yes, there surely is something wrong with you.” But in reality all that has happened in most of these cases is that a wicked, deceiving person came along, identified some vulnerability in his target, capitalized on it, and deceived her (or him).  All of us have had that deception dupe us in some relationship or other and most often more than once.

Was the Samaritan woman at the well a loose woman who went from man to man? That is usually what is claimed, but surely there is a very high probability that she was the victim of deceiving, using men and she was an easy target for them.  Why? Might I suggest it was because she was “thirsty,” but she was looking for the wrong kind of water to quench that thirst.  John 4 is the record of that day when Living Water met her and she was never the same again.

Yes, I would suggest that a victim who has been duped by abusers several times does need to look within herself. Not to blame, but to try to understand what it is that is making her so vulnerable to evil ones. Does she fear being alone? Does she believe she is just rather worthless if a man doesn’t want her? Maybe she is just too naive about evil? Often she is just plain too “nice.” None of these possibilities is sin, but each one is certainly dangerous.

It seems to me that a woman who has been repeatedly abused in a sequence of “marriages” must be somewhat similar to the traumatized rape victim. Through deception and guile the rapist drew her in, used her by force, and cast her away. Or if she is still with the abuser, he is killing her slowly, just as a rapist so often murders his victim.

We know numbers of women who have been through this chain of abusive marriages, and I am sure that they could be greatly helped by our readers, especially those who have had the same experience. What have you discovered about why this happened to you? Did you have some awakening moments when some truth jumped out at you that helped you? How can a victim of this serial abuse make some changes to break out of this cycle of being a target?

Some Thoughts from Proverbs

Proverbs 4:14-19, Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. (15) Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. (16) For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. (17) For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. (18) But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (19) The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.

Reading through Proverbs recently, I noticed a number of passages that warn of the danger and the negative effects of associations with the wicked.  The Lord’s wisdom instructs us to turn away from evil people – the kind who cannot go to bed at night unless they have worked their evil on someone.  Their “food” is wickedness and violence.  They have a taste for it and seem to thrive on it.  Of course, in the end, it turns out that they are blindly heading for destruction.  For all these reasons and more, we are wise to stay away from them.  Similarly –

Proverbs 13:20, Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Proverbs 14:7, Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.

We see the same principle in numbers of places in the New Testament too.  For instance –

1 Corinthians 15:33, Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
1 Corinthians 5:6, Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

Now, what does all of this have to do with the subject of abuse?  Well, it seems to me that it has a direct bearing upon the common struggles the abuse victim has in trying to decide if the Lord permits her to leave and/or divorce her abuser.  It also comes into play in analyzing whether it is really true or not that children are always better off with two parents, even if one of them is an abuser.  If the Lord advises us repeatedly to not associate with the wicked, how does that “square” with the common advice being given to abuse victims by pastors, churches, and individual Christians that they must stay in their marriage?  Does the fact that a person is married to a wicked person negate all of this instruction to separate from such evil?
I don’t think so.

"If You Only Understood…" Using History as an Excuse for Sin

But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph 4:20-32)

I have written other posts in which I dealt with typical excuses the abuser makes for his or her evil actions. Here I want to talk about the same subject, but with broader application for all of us.
I have met numbers of professing Christians who characteristically exercise “bad tempers.” They are known for flying off the handle in anger, lashing out at others, most any time that they are told something they don’t want to hear. Or if they are denied something that they want. Most churches have such people in membership. “Oh yes, Jane. She is a touchy one alright. Don’t get on her wrong side. But we just love her anyway.” That kind of thing you see.
And many times such people’s sin (and that is what it is, sin) is excused because they have some history of mistreatment by others. “Yes, he is a real dragon quite often but then he had a really rough and abusive childhood.” Or, “we must be patient with her. She is very selfish but if you knew her background you would understand.” This kind of thing is very, very common. We are told that sin is to be excused because of the sinning person’s past.
Now, certainly trauma and abuse affect a person. Fear easily morphs into anger. There really are such things as emotional “triggers” that can set off various reactions (usually beginning with fear) in a person and these things are definitely understandable. You beat and abuse an animal over time and you shouldn’t be surprised if it snarls and snaps at you. Nevertheless, when I sin against someone by lashing out at them or hating them in my mind or being in some other way unkind to them, I am responsible for my sin. The Lord calls me to repent of it. I cannot use my past to justify and excuse my sin. I CAN perhaps use my past to help me UNDERSTAND why I launch out into sin in certain scenarios, but not for the purpose of excusing myself, but for the purpose of helping me see why a particular temptation comes my way in the first place so I can be better prepared to stand against it next time.
Trauma and abuse at the hands of the wicked is actually meant by the Lord to cause us to be MORE understanding and kind to people. For instance –

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:33-34)

You even see a very similar dynamic in Jesus’ suffering (without sin by Him of course) –

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:18)

See? The Israelites were abused big time by Pharaoh. But that suffering is to lead them to have more compassion on others in a like situation, not to excuse them for being hateful toward others.
Using our background of troubles as an excuse for sinning against others is a real trap and pitfall. It is a place we just really do not want to go, and those who do can spend years and years in that snare. It prevents us from even recognizing love when it is dumped in our lap. It prevents us from loving others.
This is why good, truthful therapy is so helpful. For the Christian, much of that therapy can come from God’s Word shining a light on what is really going on in our minds. We can benefit greatly from getting help from people who have been down that traumatic, abusive road themselves. Not so we can justify our sin, but (I say again) so that we can better see ourselves, understand what is going on in us, and realize finally that we do not have to keep getting set off like a keg of gunpowder each time some person or situation lights a fuse.
No, this does not mean that we naively and foolishly trust/unconditionally forgive/reconcile with people who are our enemies. If you have read this blog for much time at all you know that we would never teach that nonsense. An enemy remains an enemy as long as their wicked maliciousness is pointed at us. But what we are saying is that we must not fall into the trap of justifying our own sin [or anyone’s] just because of what happened to us before. Sin is sin and it is never excusable. It is “forgiveable” when we confess it to the Lord and ask Him to deliver us from temptation.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Mat 6:9-13)

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