An Open Letter to Church Elders and Pastors

An Open Letter to Elders & Preachers for
Help with Spouse Abuse Among Christians

Patsy Rae Dawson

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Dear Elders and Preachers,

Women from all over the world e-mail me begging for help with knowing what to do about abusive spouses. In nearly every case, they have asked the elders, preachers, and some of their brethren for help, only to be told to go home and be submissive and let their husbands come to their senses. Or the spiritual leaders say, “If your husband will come talk to us, we’ll talk to him.” Many of these women have e-mailed me for years, and I have watched their situations deteriorate as they battle the sin in their homes alone.

One woman asked the congregation for help with her verbally and physically abusive husband who was also the preacher. They told her they were too busy winning lost souls to take the time to learn how to help her and their minister. They continued to use the minister in special soul-winning meetings. Child-protective services told the wife that if she went back to him, they would take the children away from them both–from the husband because he abused them and from the wife because she put them back in harm’s way. Isn’t that an impressive candlestick for that congregation? Too busy with God’s work to learn how to help a preacher and his family!

In another congregation, the elders referred to one of their deacons as “a junkyard dog.” Yet they allowed him to continue doing the work of a deacon. Many years later, his wife presented the elders with a shoebox full of her hair that he had snatched from her head.

Two women in one congregation asked the elders for help with verbally abusive husbands. Instead of giving help, the elders continued to use the two men to team-teach the teenage class. These men could not teach the love of God because they didn’t practice it at home. A generation later, nearly every young person in their classes fell away from the Lord.

I wish these extremes were the exception rather than the rule. My e-mails indicate that lack of spiritual help is all too common. Is it any wonder that many congregations are dying instead of growing? Perhaps Peter gives us a clue in I Peter 3:7 where he said that the prayers of men don’t reach any higher than the ceiling when they fail to live with their wives according to knowledge. Use of such men in the Lord’s service mocks God and creates stumbling blocks for their wives!

Today, I’m speaking on behalf of my sisters. I pray that you will let me plead their case before you. You hold within your hands the power to stop a lot of misery and to cause families to glorify God for his multi-faceted wisdom. I am convinced that without solving problems according to God’s word, it is impossible for us to really see the wisdom of God.

With spiritual support often unavailable in their congregations, I continually advise these women to seek help from the local women’s shelters and give them the national toll-free number at 1-800-799-7233. Counselors at the shelters give them accurate facts about spouse abuse, such as the following:

He is a textbook controller, abuser, and adulterer. They rarely change.
He is an emotional toddler. They usually don’t change.
Power gives off a better high than drugs.
If not dealt with, the abuse will always get worse and more dangerous.
Without God’s wisdom, these statements ring true. God’s word promotes success where man often fails. Modern psychology recognizes two options as the most powerful for overcoming verbal and physical abuse: (1) peer pressure and (2) the handcuff cure.

In both of these areas, elders and preachers excel when they educate themselves about spouse abuse because Romans 12:2 tells us that we can help transform lives with the power of the scriptures. One of the thrills of being a Christian is witnessing God turning tragic lives into beautiful ones.

Peer Pressure

God designed for peer pressure to take place in the church. For the most part, that’s not happening. Many times, even after the elders know a man abuses his wife, they claim they don’t want to discourage him and continue to use him in the services. In one instance, the police came out twice and escorted the husband off the property. Yet the men continued to use the husband to wait upon the Lord’s Table. In another case, when a man openly told his wife he was going over to his girlfriend’s house, the elders wouldn’t even talk to him and continued using him in services.

I am never surprised when an abused wife tells me her husband is now committing adultery. Verbal abuse is often the beginning of what I call “cluster sins”–sins that grow and feed off of each other. I’m not surprised when I hear a brother is now involved in drug or alcohol abuse. I wish I were surprised when I learn that incest has occurred.

In my online booklet “Adultery and Sexual Addiction: A Plan for Healing the Soul and the Marriage” at at http://www.gospelthemes.com/asa.htm, I discuss Titus 3:3 about how a person becomes enslaved to sin. The booklet contains a list of common cluster sins that include verbal and physical abuse.

Often, a person uses verbal abuse to deflect attention away from other sins and to silence the wife on bringing them up. Many wives suffer from sins in their marriages that could be solved if they could be brought out into the open and discussed.

Verbal abuse is not about an unsubmissive wife. In nearly every instance, the wife probably tries harder to practice submission than your own wife does. These women cower before the husband’s intimidation and work to escape the terror that rules their marriages. They do not know that what they endure now is only a sample of the grief to come if it is not dealt with.

Verbal and physical abuse revolve around a sense of “entitlement” and “power highs” that think the wife exists solely to satisfy the man’s needs and wants without any regard for her needs or desires. As a mockery to God, these men quote scriptures in an attempt to justify their mistreatment of their wives.

Ironically, they seldom quote Ephesians 5:22-33 that balances the wife’s subjection by telling husbands to sacrifice for their wives just as Christ gave himself up for the church. Instead, they cite your passage, I Tim. 3:4-5 where Paul instructed elders to “know how” to manage their own households, else how would they know how to take care of the church of God?

I possess a transcript of a secret meeting of the men to discuss one of their brothers whose wife brought charges of verbal and physical abuse against him. She pled for help. Rather than figuring out how to admonish and discipline their brother, the meeting turned into multiple confessions of how they, too, abused their wives.

Several, including the preacher, appealed to I Tim. 3:4-5 as authority to spank their wives. They cited the verses by leaving out “know how.” One man boasted, “I can knock my wife out for the Lord, if it will save her soul.” Is it any wonder that the wife gave up on her brethren, and turned her back on God? But it wasn’t God’s fault or due to his lack of providing guidance in his word.

Surely, these ungodly attitudes that use God to justify mistreatment of wives horrify you as much as they do me. Indeed, God said in Psalms 50:16-23 that the wicked, who let their mouths run loose in evil, slander others (including wives), and who associate with adulterers, have no right to quote his scriptures. A young girl who heard about this meeting said, “If this is the way Christian men treat their wives, I will never marry a Christian.”

For about 35 years, my husband and I have asked elders and preachers, who often know details about the members’ lives, if the men who cause the most problems in the congregation and who upset meetings with their outbursts, if these men also cause problems in their homes. In every instance, the answer is yes. This demonstrates the validity of Paul’s statement that men who do not know how to manage their own households, don’t know how to take care of the church of God.

In recent years, I’ve started asking women if their husbands cause problems at work. One lady, whose husband asserts that he never apologizes because he’s never wrong, said, “It’s funny you ask that, because my husband was recently fired. I’m sure it happened because he was overbearing with people at work just like he is at home.”

My first involvement with abuse concerned a woman who verbally and physically abused her husband and children. Her husband stood taller and weighed more than she, but she yelled at him in stores, threw glasses at him, and chased him down the stairs with a skillet of hot gravy. The husband asked for help when she started harassing him at work.

Another woman and I went to her house after we saw the children leave for school. We spent the whole day listening to all her excuses for abusing her family and answering them with what a marriage should be like. When the children came home from school, we had accomplished nothing.

We told the woman we were leaving and would present the matter to the church. Her argumentative stance immediately changed as she asked, “You’re taking this to the church?” We replied yes. At that point of peer pressure, she finally repented. She apologized to her husband and children. As long as we were members of that congregation, she did not go back to her old ways. Once we left, she returned to abusing her husband and children.

At that time, I had not been to training at two women’s shelters or studied the scriptures in regard to abuse. Both my experience and knowledge were limited. In the years since, my marriage students urged me to learn and teach on this subject. I responded to their distress as I am now pleading with you to listen to the cries of your congregations and to educate yourselves on this subject to help make lasting changes in people’s lives.

Many spiritual leaders fear being overwhelmed with the day-to-day struggles of abusers and their families. After that first experience, I learned to never spend another whole day arguing with a sinner. Jesus never debated with people about “why” they acted the way they did. Jesus quickly focused on defining the sin and then told the sinner how to correct it and the consequences for not obeying. Peer pressure was swift and sure–not some drawn-out process of sorting through all the disputes that go on in people’s marriages.

Indeed, Eccl. 8:11 warns that because sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, the hearts of men are given fully to do evil. This is especially true of spouse abuse. Spouse abuse does not stagnant. If not stopped, you can depend on it to get worse.

When I faced that first incident of husband abuse, I didn’t know that the sinner needed to re-educate her mind on how to deal with problems rather than reacting. I don’t spend hours doing this training because I have books and audio albums that teach the material. I give assignments and use accountability for follow through. Once we develop our knowledge base, we can help people fairly quickly, if they can be helped at all. While Jesus could not help everyone, he did not coddle them in their sins.

The Handcuff Cure

Without peer pressure from the church, wives are often left with only the handcuff cure. God provides this way of escape as he ordained the civil government to punish the wicked, Rom. 13:3-4 and I Pet. 2:13-14. For a wife to file an assault charge against her husband is as righteous as her partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Sadly, in most areas, she cannot file charges against her husband for verbal abuse. Nearly all physical abuse started as verbal abuse. If the spiritual leaders had applied peer pressure during the verbal-abuse stage, and she had learned not to be codependent with her husband, perhaps the situation would never have escalated into physical abuse.

Once a spouse crosses the line into hitting, slapping, and pushing, the danger of being killed increases. The handcuff cure has a greater chance of being successful the quicker it is employed. Allowed to go on, physical abuse often becomes a desperate battle for the wife to just survive.

One woman broke free and called the police when her husband, a Christian, held her down on the bed and started choking her. After they heard what he did, the police arrested the husband and took him to jail. Once there, they pointed to some men sitting in leg irons waiting to be processed. They said, “Do you see those men? They started out just like you, abusing their wives because they got mad about something. Now they beat their wives because they like it. If you don’t stop now, you’ll be sitting with them. And you’ll like hurting your wife. See that woman? She’s here because she killed her husband. We arrested her husband many times for abusing her. She finally defended herself.”

In listening to women, I have observed that boyfriends and husbands take up the abuse at the stage where they stopped it with previous girlfriends or wives. While charming during courtship, they may not wait for the honeymoon to be over before they start the physical abuse. Abuse is not about what the woman did wrong. It’s like rape; it’s about power highs.

Help for Dealing with Spouse Abuse

I own a collection of books on spouse abuse and am always buying ones that claim to approach it from the Bible to increase my knowledge. However, mainstream books often use a simplistic and shallow approach of just quoting a few scriptures rather than actually studying the passages and the word meanings. God’s word provides more help than that.

The most in-depth material is my Challenges in Marriage: What to Do When Sin Inhibits Love audio series at http://www.gospelthemes.com/challcas.htm. In several congregations, the elders and their wives have studied this material together. One congregation that was notorious for not saying anything to husbands and continuing to use them in services began holding the men accountable. Did they save every marriage that was brought to them? No. God doesn’t guarantee that. However, in every instance that I know about, not a single wife turned her back on God because she thought he had abandoned her in a desperate marriage. And some husbands were restored and now mentor other husbands. Those elders probably spend less time on problem marriages than they did before, because they are focused and do not excuse the men’s conduct.

One of the first things I ask of people who come to me for help is that they fill out the questionnaire on spouse abuse at my site at http://www.gospelthemes.com/survey.htm. While this helps them assess the danger level of their situation, it also allows them to examine whether or not they are abusive. One woman wrote that the survey revealed that she verbally abused her husband. She had excused her behavior as, “That’s just the way I am when I get mad.”

I also insist that people go through the Challenges material and especially pay attention to the classes on “Fighting Fair” and “Facing Anger.” When one person, even if it is the woman, learns the rules for fighting fair, that person is greatly empowered to change the course of arguments. Regardless of the size of the problems, all marriages benefit from a couple learning how to talk with each other. In Lundy Bancroft’s book, that I recommend next, he says that verbal abusers are not motivated to change because their yelling, name-calling, and cursing get the results they want. The classes on how to fight fair stop that cycle.

In addition, I recommend two secular books. Neither one deals with the scriptures, but they expose reality. You might consider buying several copies for your libraries as loaners for those in the midst of abuse.

Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft: On page 145, Bancroft lists the bullying tactics that both abusive men and women use on their families. I often send this list to women who contact me. It helps open their eyes. Once their eyes open and they recognize the abuser’s immaturity and tricks, they often quit being intimidated and can think more clearly. You can read this list on my spouse abuse FAQ page. Bancroft teaches that the abuser must take responsibility for his own words and actions. This must happen before other problems in the marriage can be resolved.

The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans: This book gives lots of examples of abuse and how to react so as to break the cycle of the abuser getting what he wants by mistreating others. As a secular book, a Christian will not agree with everything. Challenges in Marriage teaches the scriptures; this book gives some ideas on how to work the principles.

Verbal abuse by women is as old as the Bible. Solomon described its misery in Proverbs 21:19 and 27:15-16. Statistics show that women are increasingly verbally abusive. College coeds are becoming more physically violent. Husband abuse may be a well-kept secret in your congregation.

Unfortunately, books dealing with abusive women are hard to find. Basically, a person has to take the ones dealing with male abusers and apply it to women. In my Challenges material, I occasionally mention that these teachings also protect abused husbands. God gives the same formula for both men and women to overcome these cluster sins.

We decry the abuse of women in third world countries all in the name of religion. Yet the same degradation of women goes on in this country among many Christians, who verbally and physically abuse their wives. The shame is on our heads, because God gives Christians the tools to stamp out spouse abuse among us.

Many elders and preachers just shake their heads when they hear that someone’s problems have escalated into abuse or adultery. I hope you’re not shaking your head. If you’re not prepared to shepherd your flock in the area of verbal and physical abuse, then I pray that you will prepare yourself. If you’re not prepared and you’re continuing to use such husbands in the worship of the congregation, then don’t call it worship because you are encouraging a sinner in his evil deeds. God is not listening to the men’s prayers in your congregation. And when your women e-mail me to ask what they can do, you’re forcing me to continue to send them to the world for it’s imperfect local support.

In admiration of God’s power to transform lives,

Patsy Rae Dawson
GospelThemes.com

P.S. If you are a man or a woman in an abusive relationship, please feel free to forward this letter to your elders and preacher and tell them you need help. Ask them if they will study Challenges in Marriage with you. Some elders have responded to this request, and their congregations are now strong. If they will not study with you, try to find a study buddy who will help you fine tune your understanding of God’s word and apply it to your life.

P.P.S. Spouse abuse thrives on secrecy per the charge of many husbands, “What goes on in this house stays in this house.” Ephesians 5:11 reads, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.”

Don’t be like the wife who filled out the spouse abuse questionnaire. She wrote, “My husband abused me for years. When his name came up to be an elder, I didn’t object. I didn’t want to hurt his influence. Now he’s starting to molest our daughters.” How outrageous for that family and congregation!

Isaiah 26:10 reads, “Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, and does not perceive the majesty of the Lord.”

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Permission to Make Copies

You are free to download “An Open Letter to Elders & Deacons for Help with Spouse Abuse” by Patsy Rae Dawson, to make copies to share with others, or to mirror on your web site, with the following restrictions:

All contents of “An Open Letter to Elders & Deacons for Help with Spouse Abuse” are copyright © 2007 by Patsy Rae Dawson and Samuel G. Dawson, all rights reserved.

“An Open Letter to Elders & Deacons for Help with Spouse Abuse” must remain intact and unmodified from the form supplied here, including copyright notice and URL addresses.

You may not charge to access “An Open Letter to Elders & Deacons for Help with Spouse Abuse.” If you have any questions about using this material, please contact the publisher at gtp@gospelthemes.com.

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