There is terror in the parsonage when the abuser is your pastor … and husband!
“I’m the worst pastor’s wife in the whole world,” said Julie, sobbing as she described how she had utterly failed God and didn’t deserve to live.”
Julie’s husband was the pastor of a large church in the inner city. At home he was a tyrant who bullied and abused his family, but in the pulpit, he was transformed into a godly man whom the congregation respected and adored. He was compassionate and gave 100% of himself to his congregation, but at home he commanded fear and absolute obedience from his wife and children, using scripture to justify his right to punish and terrorize. “God isn’t pleased with you,” he’d say as he slapped his wife into submission.
Terror in the Parsonage
After years of convincing herself she was to blame for her husband’s endless assaults on her mind, body and soul, Julie heard a radio broadcast about domestic violence featuring the co-founders of FOCUS Ministries, Brenda Branson and Paula Silva. She quickly wrote down the phone number. She then called the next day from a friend’s house after her husband left for work.
“Good morning, this is FOCUS Women’s Center. How can I help you?” In a quiet, trembling voice, Julie shared her story. She hadn’t told anyone in the church because she didn’t want to be a stumbling block in God’s work or destroy her husband’s reputation.
If he lost his job, they would have no financial security, and besides, who would believe her anyway? She didn’t believe in divorce, and didn’t want her children to suffer the effects of a broken family. She was terrified she would lose custody of the children if she left, since he was good with words and could easily convince the court that she was an unfit mother with severe emotional problems.
“Tell me about a typical day in your home,” encouraged the lay counselor at the Women’s Center. “I feel like a prisoner in my own home serving a life sentence of hard labor. I’m on a time schedule where I have to account for every second of the day. In the mornings I’m expected to awaken an hour before he does so I can shower and get dressed. I put on makeup, and cook a full breakfast. I’m responsible for making sure he gets up on time. It’s also expected that I lay out his clothes for the day, and warm up the car before he leaves for work. If anything goes wrong, he says it’s all my fault.”
“He writes a list of chores for me to do each day. And then he warns me what will happen if I don’t get them finished. He gives me an allowance each week, which is supposed to cover the cost of groceries and gas for the car. He checks the receipts and criticizes the purchases he thinks are unnecessary. If I want to go out to lunch with a friend, I use pennies, nickels, and dimes, which I’ve hidden away in my lingerie drawer.”
“He calls frequently throughout the day to check up on me. He’ll ask what I’ve been doing, who I’ve been talking to, and what I ate for lunch. Additionally, he even counts the cookies in the package before he leaves and after he returns to make sure I don’t eat too many and gain weight. If I’m not at home when he calls, it makes him very angry. He has threatened to buy a beeper and a cell phone for me so he can keep track of me throughout the day.”
“What happens in the evening when he comes home?” asked the counselor. “He expects the house to be spotless and for there to be a hot meal on the table. He becomes enraged if there are toys lying around or if the children are too loud. After dinner, I do the dishes, bathe the children, and get them ready for bed. By then I’m totally exhausted. But he demands my time and attention until he is ready to go to bed.
After reviewing the list of chores, he tells me how incompetent and lazy I am, and gives me strict orders for the next day. I feel humiliated and demoralized. But if I speak up in my own defense, he will grab my face with his strong hands clamped on my jaw bone and squeeze, while one of his fingers is digging into the soft tissue underneath my chin.
With his lips quivering and taunt, he’ll say, “Woman, look at me! You can’t do anything right! I’m under a lot of pressure and you’re not being supportive. God is going to punish you for being rebellious and keeping me from preparing a good sermon. It’s all your fault…'”
More Control Issues
Julie explained that she must sit in the same room with him as he watches TV or prepares his sermon. She is not allowed to do needlework or crafts because her attention won’t be focused on his needs. But light reading is okay as long as she puts her book down when he speaks. “I need you to be with me,” he insists.
“Night time can be the most terrifying,” said Julie. “He uses scripture to justify his sexual demands and perversions. If he is unable to sleep, he wakes me up to listen to his ranting and raving about my failures, which often escalates into hitting and punching. I am worried that the children will wake up and see him assaulting me, and terrified that he will kill me one day in a fit of rage.”
“What do you do when he starts hitting you?” asked the counselor. “I take it as long as I can because it makes him furious if I leave the room. As soon as the rage has subsided and he goes back to sleep, I move to the living room and sleep on the couch. Somehow it feels safer than staying in the same room with him… unless he wakes up again and finds me gone. That makes him angry too. So he rips the blankets off me and pulls me off the couch onto the floor. I lay there until I hear snoring noises from the bedroom. And then I crawl back onto the couch to get a few hours sleep before I have to get up the next morning.”
Calling for Help?
“Have you ever considered calling the police when he hits you?” asked the counselor. “No, I could never do that!” Julie cried out. “His reputation would be ruined if people found out. And I’m afraid of what he would do to me when he returned home.”
Julie suddenly got very quiet as she confessed, “I can’t take it anymore! I feel so trapped. There have even been times when I’ve thought about killing myself. At least I would be going to a better place. It’s better to go there than to live in hell on earth!”
The FOCUS counselor met with Julie on a regular basis to help her identify her options and regain hope for living. She recommended several good books. And then she invited her to a support group meeting for pastor’s wives who are being abused.
If you are living in a dysfunctional or abusive relationship, and your husband is a pastor or ministry leader, there is hope!
Here are some steps you can take to get help:
1. Tell someone!
Secrecy feeds the power and control of an abuser. If you do not feel comfortable in telling someone at church, tell a close friend or family member. It is best to confide in someone whom you can trust to maintain confidentiality. You need people around you to provide support and safety.
Contact FOCUS Ministries online at Focusministries1.org or call us at 270-825-2423 or 630-595-7023. We will be glad to talk with you and provide you with literature and books that will help. You can also check with the women’s shelter in your area to see if they have support groups which you can attend. Be aware, however, that they may not represent a faith-based perspective.
2. Identify behaviors that are extremely controlling and abusive. Does your husband ever threaten you with words or a weapon? Do you have to account for your time away from him or every penny you spend? Is he hard to please, demanding, and overly critical? Does he call you names and criticize your appearance? Does he punish you when you don’t submit or obey his commands? Are you forced to have sex or perform sexual acts you aren’t comfortable with?
Does his anger escalate into a rage, with screaming, ranting and raving? Does he ever push you or hit you? And does he prevent you from leaving a room or follow you from room to room? Have you ever needed medical treatment because he injured you, or have you treated your bruises and cuts at home so no one would know? Are you afraid of your husband? If any of the above describes your husband’s pattern of behavior, you are living in an abusive relationship.
3. Understand that physical assault and battery is a crime!
If he treated anyone else the way he is treating you, he would be arrested. It is not your fault! The problem does not lie with your behavior, but with his character! The best way to end physical abuse is to hold him accountable, even if it means calling 9-1-1 and charging him with a crime. Often, that is the wake-up call that will convince him to get help.
Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to leave, or ask him to leave, and require him to get long-term professional help and show verifiable changes before he is allowed to return.
4. Realize that God hates violence
(See: Psalm 11:5; Malachi 2:14-16.) Jesus came to offer freedom to the oppressed. (Isaiah 61:1-3). He loves you and will not abandon you. (Psalm 9:9). He will bring justice in his own time (Psalm 146:5-9; Psalm 10:17-18).
5. Take responsibility for your children’s safety and spiritual growth.
Even though children are devastated by divorce, they suffer more long-term effects from living in an abusive home where they learn that daddy hitting mommy is normal. Children often base their view of God on their dad’s behavior. If their dad is abusive or controlling, they may have a difficult time trusting God as their heavenly father.
They may see God as a tyrannical judge waiting to catch them doing something wrong instead of a loving Savior who is for them, who offers unconditional love and forgiveness. An expert in the field of domestic violence believes it is much worse for a child to grow up in an abusive home than in a single-parent household. You need to evaluate your situation to determine the least harmful environment for your child, and then take steps to secure their safety.
6. Develop a safety plan!
If your husband has already been physically violent, it is likely he will repeat the pattern of behavior. Even if he has only used verbal and emotional abuse to keep you in line, his behavior may escalate to physical violence as you begin to set healthy boundaries or confront his abusive behavior.
Contact FOCUS Ministries online at www.focusministries1.org or by mail at P. O. Box 323, Hanson, KY 42413 for a free, eight-page safety plan that will help you know what to do the next time violence occurs in your home. If you are being physically battered right now, seek help and a safe place immediately!
7. Identify the resources (support groups, shelters, attorneys) in your area.
It is better to educate yourself about help available in your area now instead of waiting until you are in a crisis.
In her book, Broken and Battered, Muriel Canfield compares the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10 to situations involving domestic violence. She writes, “A perpetrator of domestic violence [a pastor/husband] represents the thief as he wounds his wife. He robs her of dignity, confidence, trust in men, trust in the church, and perhaps trust in God. She, like the stranger on the roadside, may be left half-dead, either physically, emotionally, or both.
Many people pass her by, not wishing to be involved because they have enough problems of their own. Some people pass because they think the woman behaved recklessly in taking that road. Others walk by because they can’t believe any of the good people in the area would harm a woman to that degree. So they decide she’s faking. Others are in a hurry and hope the next guy stops.” Finally, the good Samaritan (perhaps a friend or counselor) has compassion and helps her get to safety.
In Ms. Canfield’s challenge to the church she writes, “After Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he said, ‘Go and do likewise.’ And so must we. Whereas the church has not done its share to help domestic violence victims, secular organizations have counseled them, sheltered them, and funded them, standing in as Good Samaritans.”
You are important and precious to God.
You are loved and valued just because of who you are,
An image-bearer of the living God!
Even though you have suffered greatly,
God offers you hope and joy
and the promise to walk with you each step of the way.
You are not alone!
Remember… domestic violence is a crime!
No one has a right to batter you, verbally or physically.
It’s up to you to break the silence, confront the evil,
and stop the cycle of abuse.
May God grant you strength and peace, heal your pain,
and restore you to the woman He created you to be.
Hold onto God’s Word:
“I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten… and you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God who has dealt wondrously with you.” (Joel 2:25)
“Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens.You have done such wonderful things. You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again. You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again.
Then I will praise you with music on the harp because you are faithful to your promises, O God. I will shout with joy and sing your praises… for everyone who tried to hurt me has been shamed and humiliated.” (Psalm 71:19-24 NLT)
This article was written by Brenda Branson, the president and co-founder of FOCUS Ministries. This is one of many informative articles featured on the web site for FOCUS Ministries Focusministries1.org —a not-for-profit organization devoted to offer hope, encouragement, education, and assistance to women who are struggling in difficult circumstances, including spousal abuse.
Brenda is an author and public speaker and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors and co-host of Restoring the Hope Conferences for women. She has written over 800 articles and educational materials on the topic of domestic violence. She also writes a monthly newsletter called FOCUS, and has published four manuals on domestic violence for pastors, counselors, and support group leaders.
— ALSO —
There is another insightful article that is written on this same subject. It is posted on the web site for the Clergy Recovery Network. Please read:
If you have additional insights or hope you can share, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
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