Youth Minister Jennifer Brennan Charged with Child Sex Abuse

Youth minister Jennifer Michelle Brennan has been charged with 10 counts of taking indecent liberties with a child and 10 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

It is my hope that if anyone affected by this case should find this blog, you can find some help and additional insight about dealing with the issue of clergy sex abuse allegations in the articles in the right sidebar of this site and under the Church Abuse tab. God has hope and help.

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What Does the Bible Really Say? — God Hates Divorce

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Malachi 2:16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away…

This verse is frequently translated “God hates divorce” and this is probably the single most often-quoted snippet in Christianity on the subject of divorce. “Everyone” knows that phrase and will tell you it’s in the Bible. Usually, the phrase is understood to mean, “since God hates divorce it is not, and cannot be, God’s will for any Christian to be divorced.”

First off, let me state the obvious. The Bible doesn’t say, “since God hates divorce it is not, and cannot be, God’s will for any Christian to be divorced.” But could it possibly mean that? Since the Bible does not actually say this, it is a fair question to ask whether that is really what it means.

Again, stating the obvious, it is reasonable to assume that God “hates” divorce, in the sense that He doesn’t like it. He isn’t dumb and any thinking person hates divorce. It is painful and it is not the way God intended marriage to be. So, of course, He doesn’t like it.

But is it also correct to assume that “God hates divorce” means divorce is an abomination to Him and absolutely forbidden?

In Isaiah 50:1 and in Jeremiah 3:8 God specifically states that He divorced Israel. I have discussed this in more detail in What the Bible Says About Divorce, III. It is important to remember that human marriage is symbolic of the spiritual reality, not the other way around. If anything, God’s example in marriage would carry more weight than the reverse.

Also, Ezra 10 tells of a time when God commanded the Israelite men to get divorces. I have discussed this passage in more detail in What the Bible Says About Divorce, IV. How could God possibly command the Israelite men to divorce their wives if, in fact, “God hates divorce” means that divorce is an abomination to God and absolutely forbidden?

Then in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 Jesus gives a very specific exception clause when He answers the Pharisees’ questions regarding the allowance of divorce. Obviously, Jesus did not say that all divorce is an abomination to God and absolutely forbidden.

Let me ask another obvious question. Wouldn’t it have been easier for Jesus to just say, “God hates divorce” when probed by the Pharisees, if God meant that all divorce is an abomination and forbidden? But instead of quoting the definitive “God hates divorce” Jesus went into detail in an entirely different direction. Why did He do that if Malachi 2 establishes the primary precedent for God’s view of divorce?

In the church what we hear most of the time is “God hates divorce” – and yet, that statement is never reiterated in the New Testament – or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter. “God hates divorce” is the most repeated phrase in the church on the subject of divorce but appears only once in the Bible. Why is this true if this one phrase is of such profound significance?

Would it be logical to believe that the words of Jesus are probably the most accurate reflection of God’s heart on the subject of divorce, since He was directly asked for God’s perspective? So why did Jesus speak as He did? I have addressed Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce in response to the Pharisees in the article, What the Bible Really Says – Don’t Put Asunder. For the sake of not straying from the point of this article, I’m not going to go into it here. But what Jesus said was important – and He quite noticeably did not say “since God hates divorce it is not, and cannot be, God’s will for any Christian (or follower of God, since He was talking to the Pharisees) to be divorced.”

It is necessary for us, as believers, to understand this issue, since the phrase “God hates divorce” is commonly being used in the church in an unbiblical manner and the result is a great deal of harm. It may not seem like a big deal for those who have not been faced with divorce or with marriages in violation of the Word, but the inaccurate handling of the Word is being used to keep people in bondage and also to cause added condemnation and rejection to people whom God has neither condemned nor rejected. Additionally, there are many who say they aren’t condemning or rejecting – but the effect is virtually the same since it is putting a burden of “wrong” on the shoulders of people for whom God has not a single shred of approbation – even without condemnation or rejection.

So what is Malachi saying?

Let’s first take a look at how several translations handle Malachi 2:16. This is very revealing.

King James Version

For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

New King James Version
“For the LORD God of Israel says
That He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”
Says the LORD of hosts.

“ Therefore take heed to your spirit,
That you do not deal treacherously.”

New International Version

“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty.
So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

American Standard Version

For I hate putting away, saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, and him that covereth his garment with violence, saith Jehovah of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

Holman Christian Standard Bible

“If he hates and divorces [his wife],” says the LORD God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the LORD of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.

English Standard Version

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Now, let’s dig into this.

First of all, let me acknowledge that there are many people who believe the King James Version (1611 version specifically) is the only accurate translation. This version says God hates putting away. Without getting into any debate regarding the veracity of various translations, let me take this statement alone.

If, in fact, the King James Version is completely accurate, it is important to note that it does not say “God hates divorce.” It says God hates putting away. In the context of Malachi 2 it is clear God is directing His statements to men who have been unfaithful to their first wives and put them away in order to take heathen wives. God speaks repeatedly of their treachery. God’s focus is on their treachery – this is what He is condemning – not divorce.

This fact is the key to the entire passage. God’s eyes are not on the legal documents these men obtained. It is on their treacherous hearts. God condemns the treachery that led to the divorces – and this fact is plainly communicated in the context. These men “put away” their wives and divorced them. The putting away of their wives was a fact of their treacherous hearts, and it led to divorce. But the treachery of their hearts was the real problem.

Would God have said it was OK if they had mistreated their wives but had just taken second wives instead of divorcing their first ones? They were allowed to have multiple wives so taking additional wives would not have been a problem. However, the answer is still a resounding NO! In fact, this would still have left these men in the position of the men in Ezra, whom God commanded to divorce their heathen wives, thereby making it obvious His issue is not with divorce but with the heart condition of the people involved. In Malachi, His focus is on their treachery – not on the legal documents that resulted from the treachery.

Another substantive point to note about God’s viewpoint on the treachery of these men in Malachi 2 is that He treats the two treacherous acts as separate offenses. He condemns their treachery in taking heathen wives. Then He condemns their treachery in putting away their first wives. The two are both treacherous acts, separate and distinct from one another. This is an important detail because we need to remember that the second act was not treacherous because of the first, nor vice versa. Each was treacherous independently — two distinct violations.

In Malachi 2, the focus on these men’s treachery is directly reflected in what Jesus said when confronted by the Pharisees. The root problem in both places is the heart of putting asunder – not the legal document of divorce. Putting asunder is a direct violation of God’s original plan and instructions regarding marriage in Genesis. And putting asunder is something that happens in the heart long before a legal document is issued by a court.

With this understanding, we also see the Word is speaking a consistent message. The problem in Malachi 2 is the same as Jesus outlined in the New Testament. And we know God is consistent! He doesn’t change His mind here and there, being double-minded and condoning divorce in one place while condemning it in another.

All that said, there is more to be seen in these translations. Notice specifically the wording in the Holman Christian Standard Version and the English Standard Version.

Holman says, “If he hates and divorces [his wife],” says the LORD God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice…”

ESV says, “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence…”

Why do these two translations use such significantly different verbiage here? This change makes a serious difference in the meaning of the passage – especially considering the frequency with which “God hates divorce” is quoted in the church.

Before getting into the particulars, I think it would bear noting the pedigree of these two translations. In looking into this issue I corresponded with Barbara Roberts, the author of the book Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion. She has an entire chapter (Chapter 8 ) devoted to this phrase in Malachi 2.

In the course of our correspondence, Barbara said, “The ESV is heavily promoted by Crossway, which is a major publisher of complementarian material. The Holman Christian Standard version was produced by the Southern Baptist denomination. So would-be-objectors from the conservative ranks need to sit up and take note.” I found this point interesting, since these translations are supported by conservative Christianity, yet this pivotal passage has not been seriously visited by the church systems which promote the translations.

But, let’s get back to the variance demonstrated here. There is actually a specific reason for such a substantive disagreement. Barbara goes into it in detail in her book, with extensive footnote documentation. Without reprinting the entire chapter here (you really need to read the book; it is exceptional) let me quote one relevant part here:

In Malachi 2:16, the subject of the verb “hates” is not explicit: the Hebrew does not read “God hates” or “the husband hates.” All we know from the verb is that the person who hates is third person masculine singular (“he” or “one”), just like “covers.” It is certainly not the first person “I hate.”

Now we come to our main point. Most Bible translations have taken the subject of the first verb to be God (God hates) and thereby changed he hates to the first person I hate. This is unfaithful to the Hebrew text and it creates an awkward grammatical shift between I hate and he covers

Some translations try to overcome the grammatical disjunction between the different subjects of I hate…he covers by translating the passage as I hate divorce…it covers… We need not resort to such a solution. The subject of “hates” is third person, not first, and we should only depart from the plain sense of a text if compelled by something in the text. Nothing here compels such a departure.

It makes sense to maintain the same subject (the divorcing husband) for both verbs. Since 1868 at least eighteen scholars have said that “he hates…he covers” is the most faithful way to render the Hebrew, with “he” being the divorcing husband.

Just in the past couple days I heard a preacher whom I greatly respect say, “God doesn’t condemn divorcees; He condemns divorce.” This concept is quite common in the church. But in reality it is inaccurate. God got a divorce, He commanded people to get divorces, and Jesus gave a specific circumstance under which divorce was appropriate. So God cannot possibly be condemning divorce.

What God does condemn is treachery that results in divorce. God condemns putting away or putting asunder. There is a huge difference between the statement that “God condemns divorce” and “God condemns the treachery of putting asunder in marriage.”

While I do not have ill feelings toward the person who said this, knowing he is speaking out of a place where his paradigm of truth has never been challenged, this kind of teaching is causing a great deal of hurt in the body of Christ. It is necessary, I would even say vital, for this error to be corrected so that people in the church can be accepted and loved according to truth.

Here is the bottom line. No matter how you look at Malachi 2, it is critical to understand the passage neither states nor implies “since God hates divorce it is not, and cannot be, God’s will for any Christian to be divorced.” This understanding is important because this passage is a lynchpin in church teaching on divorce and it is being persistently misused. And this misuse is causing significant pain and even alienation of believers who are victims of treachery in marriage and who most need the love and support of the church.

[In this article I have not addressed the subject of if/when Christians are allowed to divorce. I have addressed this elsewhere in other articles (see What Does God Really Say? Series What the Bible Says About Divorce, Series, and THE Biblical Grounds for Divorce) and will continue to write on the subject, since I have not yet covered every Scripture about it. The purpose of this piece is not to make any commentary on the parameters of divorce for Christians. My goal here is solely to explore the phrase “God hates divorce” in Malachi 2.]

Clergy Sexual Misconduct More Prevalent Than Understood

Baylor University has concluded a study which is to be published soon, on the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct. Below is a press release on the findings of the study.

~~~

Baylor University Conducts Largest National Study of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with Adults

Misconduct with Adults More Common Than Previously Thought; Occurs Across Many Religions, Denominations

——————————————————————————–

(Baylor University press release)

Baylor University’s School of Social Work today announced that findings from the nationwide study of the prevalence of Clergy Sexual Misconduct (CSM) with Adults have been accepted for publication later this year in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The findings come from questions included in the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS), a widely-used and highly-respected survey of a random sample of more than 3,500 American adults conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. Respondents were asked if, since turning 18, they had ever been the object of a sexual advance from a religious leader. The responses were used to establish a statistically reliable baseline for discussions about CSM with adults.

The findings suggest that the prevalence of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with Adults is higher than many people realize and that it occurs across denominations and religions.

“Because many people are familiar with some of the high-profile cases of sexual misconduct, most people assume that it is just a matter of a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” said Dr. Diana Garland, Dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University and lead researcher in the study. “What this research tells us, however, is that clergy sexual misconduct with adults is a widespread problem in congregations of all sizes and occurs across denominations. Now that we have a better understanding of the problem, we can start looking at prevention strategies.”

The study found that 3.1 percent of adult women who attend religious services at least once a month have been the victims of clergy sexual misconduct since turning 18. To explain another way, in the average U.S. congregation of 400 adult members, seven women, on average, have been victimized at some point in their adult lives.

“This is the largest scientific study into clergy sexual misconduct with adults. We hope these findings will prompt congregations to consider adopting policies and procedures designed to protect their members from leaders who abuse their power,” said Garland. “Many people – including the victims themselves – often label incidences of clergy sexual misconduct with adults as ‘affairs’. In reality, they are an abuse of spiritual power by the religious leader.”

This study is part of a comprehensive effort by Baylor University to identify the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct with adults and the details commonly associated with its occurrence across religions. Using this data as a foundation, the Baylor team has been working to outline possible initiatives designed to identify and prevent CSM, and draft model legislation to make CSM illegal in the same way that relationships with patients and clients are illegal for other “helping professionals” including doctors, lawyers and mental health practitioners. At present only two states – Texas and Minnesota – have legal statutes in place to guard against CSM.

“The religious community should be a place where people, especially those in crisis, find comfort and support,” said Dr. Randel Everett, the Executive Director and CEO of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “When a religious leader abuses the power or trust vested in them through sexual misconduct, it results in multiple sufferers. First the victim herself, then her whole family system, and eventually the congregation and the community.”

Garland also studied clergy sexual misconduct with adults from first-hand accounts. She interviewed more than 80 women and men including victims of CSM, family members or spouses of victims, religious leaders who have committed CSM, and helping professionals who have provided care for offenders and survivors. With this information, Garland and her team have begun to identify characteristics of the social context of congregations in which misconduct occurs, as well as the behavioral identifiers of offenders and the situations of those they victimize.

Based on this qualitative research, Garland and Christen Argueta, a Master of Social Work alumna from Baylor’s School of Social Work, developed a second paper, “How Clergy Sexual Misconduct Happens: A Qualitative Study of First-Hand Accounts.” This article has been accepted for publication in the journal Social Work & Christianity later this year.

“I am extremely thankful for Dr. Garland’s work in identifying clergy sexual misconduct with adults as a common problem and putting a real name and real numbers behind this issue,” said Carolyn Waterstradt, a clergy sexual misconduct survivor who took part in the qualitative research. “When it was happening to me, I felt confused and isolated. Now I know that many others have struggled with this, and that there is hope for putting systems in place to help prevent it from happening. She has given me, and others like me, a voice.”

Research Background

Research was conducted using the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS) to collect data from a nationally representative sample of 3,559 non-institutionalized English- or Spanish-speaking adults. It is conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
The GSS is conducted through in-person interviews, but questions targeting clergy sexual misconduct with adults were self-administered to alleviate respondents’ possible pain and embarrassment associated with reporting such an experience. The goals of the questions were to identify the prevalence of CSM and also to learn about the contexts in which clergy sexual advances occurred.

The clergy sexual misconduct with adults study has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, a quarterly journal published on behalf of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. It is scheduled to appear later this year.

Funding for this research project was provided by the Ford Foundation, the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the JES Edwards Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas.
For more information on the full research project, visit the study web site, which includes a project overview, case studies of clergy sexual misconduct survivors, and other information.

About the Baylor University School of Social Work

The Baylor University School of Social Work is emerging nationally as a leader in social work education that merges Baylor’s distinctive Christian heritage with professional skills and knowledge. Its mission and concepts incorporate a Christian worldview with professional standards. The school impacts the social work profession through undergraduate and graduate education of its students, original research by its faculty, publication in top-rated peer journals, leadership roles in national social work organizations, collaborative efforts with denominational entities and social justice initiatives. The mission of the school is to prepare students in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership.

Pastors Scott Webb and David Webb Sued in Sex Abuse Case

Sr. pastor Scott Webb, and his son, former youth minister David Webb, have been sued by the girl David Webb pleaded guilty of sexually abusing, and by her father. David Webb was sentenced in July to serve five years in prison.

According to the linked article, “the lawsuit alleges sexual assault, battery, harassment and seduction of an underage woman against David Webb, and accuses his employer, Word of Life Christian Center, of negligent hiring, training, supervision, retention and entrustment.”

This situation is another example of why churches must begin to self-regulate. This will become more and more common and end up putting individual churches and even entire denominations out of existence — the natural consequences of failure to stand for righteousness in the first place.

Former Music Minister David Pierce Convicted of Child Sex Abuse

Former music minister David Pierce was convicted of child sex abuse on Aug. 27. Pierce, minister of music for 29 years at First Baptist Church in Benton, AR, was originally charged with 54 counts. He accepted a plea agreement to four counts of sexual indecency with a child and will serve 10 years in prison. After his release he will have to register as a sex offender and will be listed as a habitual offender.

In the linked article I found it interesting that a statement made by Pierce includes his minimization of his crimes. It is very important for the body of Christ to understand that there are no “shades” to sexual sin or violation. What Pierce did was not somehow “not so bad” because he never “had sex” with any of the many boys he victimized over the years. Pierce is a convicted serial predator and pedophile. There is no way to soften that reality with delicate words.

If we start grading sin and crime in the church we have gone seriously amiss of the truth. The violation to the body of Christ, in having such an individual in a position of leadership, and to the specific victims who have been harmed beyond words, is astronomical. The minimization of these facts by Pierce and by the senior pastor of Benton’s First Baptist Church, Dr. Rick Grant (who called serial sexual predation and pedophelia against his church members a “circumstance”) is both telling and alarming. Pierce expressed greater concern for his family than for his victims and promptly started talking about the need of others to forgive him, in a prepared statement read by his attorney after his conviction. He also said it was never his intention to harm anyone. Really? Does that make it OK? Over at least a 20-year period he systematically sexually abused children but didn’t mean to hurt anyone? There are a small host of revelations in such a statement – and none of them are good.

An additional sad commentary is that Greg Kirksey, the former pastor of the church and previous president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention wrote a letter asking the judge for leniency, specifically requesting that Pierce be given no jail time. Kirksey expressed concern for Pierce’s life in prison due to health issues. I find it difficult to grasp why a denominational leader would ask a judge to bypass the reasonable (even minimized under the plea agreement) legal and natural consequences of Pierce’s actions. The Word plainly teaches the law of sowing and reaping. Why is it appropriate to beg for crop failure, especially in light of Pierce’s continued minimization of his actions and his responsibility for them?

It is my hope that if anyone affected by this case should find this blog, you can find some help and additional insight about the issue in the articles in the right sidebar of this site and under the Church Abuse tab. God has hope and help, but it will never be found through denial and minimization.

Christian Men with Abusive Wives

This conversation took place in one of the comment threads and I know there are many other men who are walking in the same shoes. My answer to this man is by no means comprehensive. But it’s a good place to start.

Scott said:.

I am a man and my spouse has been horribly abusive to me verbally. Sometimes I want to leave the marriage. I’ve gotten as far as to fill out the paperwork but I keep reminding myself that “God Hates Divorce”. I know a few good christian men that believe in mutual submission out of respect for God and are in a similar situation. i.e. the Woman is horribly abusive, mean, disrespectful and hateful. What is your experience with the reverse like my situation?

Danni said:.

First thing off the bat, I would recommend you read Barbara Roberts’ book, Not Under Bondage which I recommend in the left sidebar of this site. She digs into the Word in great detail.

As for my experience, I have definitely seen women who are abusive to their husbands! This is just as much of a problem for those men as it is for women who have abusive husbands. It is no less wrong for a woman to be abusive than for a man.

And here’s something important. God is no respecter of persons. He does not hold men in greater bondage to abusers than He holds women! That is impossible because it would violate God’s nature.

In the Word it says that a man must leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and then they will be one flesh. But what if that wife will not allow the husband to cleave to her? In that case, she is putting asunder their one-flesh relationship.

And what does the Word say about that? The one who puts asunder is the one on whom Jesus places blame — not on the party who may get a legal document attesting to the existing reality of the relationship. That marriage was put asunder by the one who refused to remain in the one-flesh relationship, not by the one who gets a legal document entitling them to live in safety.

And the Word says death and life are in the power of the tongue. It is just as deadly to live with someone who is verbally abusive as it is to live with someone who is physically abusive. That is not metaphorical; it is literal.

Look at Malachi 2 in the King James Version. I love the way it says this — it says God hates putting away. It doesn’t say God hates divorce. Yes, God does hate divorce. So do I. So do you (I would certainly hope). But God does here what He frequently does in the Word, and points all the way to the root of the problem. What God hates is putting away — the acts that separate the one flesh bond of marriage as He intended it. That putting away happens prior to the issuance of a divorce decree. It includes divorce, but it precedes divorce.

I would encourage you to go with God on this – and it may be necessary to stop looking at what other people in the church are teaching or doing in the name of righteousness in marriage. There is a LOT of mistaken teaching in the church on this subject. We have created a whole doctrinal system out of a partial understanding of the Word and a misunderstanding of God’s heart and nature.

All that said, you don’t say what steps you have tried as far as counseling and accountability. The Word also includes a process of accountability and church discipline in Mt. 18 which I recommend strongly, if at all possible. Most churches won’t follow it through to the conclusion, but you can follow it as thoroughly as possible. This will help assure your heart that you are indeed making every possible effort and not throwing in the towel too soon. Both in Barbara’s book and in the articles on this site we talk about what the Word says about judging a spouse to be an unbeliever (Biblically) and what the Bible says about when to stay and when you are free from an unbelieving spouse. And a person can look just like a Christian and not be a believer by Biblical standards — in fact, it happens all the time.

Dealing With the Aftermath of Abuse

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

[This article was originally written in early 2008. At that point it had been a little over two years since my marriage ended.

Now, in August, 2009, I am reading back over what I wrote and would like to add some further insight provided by time and the leading of God on my journey. I will add these comments at the end of the original piece.]

It’s 12:15 a.m. I’m awake again and can’t sleep. This happens to me alot. It’s light-years better than it used to be, but it’s still a common occurrence. I wake up in the night disturbed by my dreams. While I can filter my thought processes during the day, at night the gates are open and “unmanned.” That’s when all the emotions overwhelm me.

When I was in my late 20s I realized I had nightmares most nights and had for as long as I could remember. These nightmares were the product of the church terror motivation campaign – the world is out to get Christians and will torture and kill us all if they get a chance (including showing graphically violent movies depicting this to teens and adults – talk about abuse!); the government is controlled by evil gremlins who hate Christians and will tear apart Christian families if they get a chance; etc.

On the other side of the coin was the church’s constant drill that I was inherently evil and unacceptable. In real life I was regularly held up for public reprimand and ridicule in youth group and at Christian school and that phenomenon appeared in my dreams frequently as well – though I followed the rules religiously. Fortunately, I knew my parents loved me, but in my dreams they turned on me just like the church did. Those dreams were a reflection of what was happening in real life, just magnified and concentrated.

Realizing I was being plagued by nightmares allowed me to address those fears on a conscious level. But they reappear from time to time still. In more recent years, the dreams that haunt me are of my marriage and rejection by the church.

By the time I left my husband the last time (Oct. 2005) I was having nightly terroristic nightmares. These dreams were direct products of the reality of our daytime relationship; somewhat magnified, but definitely reflections of reality on some level. I woke from these dreams sometimes sobbing out loud, sometimes shaking with terror so hard the whole bed shook, and three or four days a week I woke with a full-blown migraine in progress.

The church couldn’t – or wouldn’t — help with this. It took a psychologist to help me get free of these nightmares and the resultant migraines – though there was no reason I had to go outside the church for this help. It just needed someone with understanding and a willingness to dig into and address things, not someone with a doctoral degree in psychology. It really wasn’t complicated or technical.

Though my days are now peaceful for the first time in many years, I still relive the nightmare at night to a lesser degree. I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes literally hurting so bad it feels like I’m having a heart attack. WHY??? Why does it have to hurt so bad?

What hurts the most is that the church both allowed and encouraged me to stay in an abusive marriage for 20 years. In fact, it did more than just encourage me to stay in that marriage. The church held additional rejection and judgment over my head if I dared to get out. I knew if I defied the church and got a divorce I would be branded forever. But staying and “working on” my marriage year after year after year was literally killing me. Ultimately it came down to obeying the direction of God and choosing the rejection of the church to stay alive. That’s a simplistic bottom-line view of a complex issue, but it is true.

In the nights when I wake up crying and can’t sleep I wonder how the church can justify its attitude toward marriage and family. The sanctity of marriage is not paramount over the sanctity of life. I wonder how the church can justify a gospel of fear, judgment and rejection. This has to be opposite of God’s desires and yet it goes on and on and on, with vested (or perhaps “encrusted” would be more appropriate) church leaders holding staunchly to tradition to the detriment of people’s real lives.
It is wrong, it matters, real people are being hurt by the church, and knowing this, I cannot sit by and do nothing. And I have to live with my nightmares and sleepless nights in the meantime.

Update: August, 2009

God is so faithful to hear the cries of our hearts. While, in the moment, things may seem insurmountable and endless, He sees a different picture. The nightmares have almost entirely ceased – so it does get better.

As I have sought God about all of this, He has worked to heal my heart – both toward my ex-husband and toward the church. He has continued to affirm that, indeed, abuse in the church and the home is not His plan.

Most importantly, as I have continued to seek Him and reject bitterness (which has been a terrific battle, in complete honesty!) He has taught me truth from His Word that has transformed my life on more levels than just healing from my abusive marriage. He has taught me so much as I’ve been willing to humble myself before Him and receive from Him – allowing Him full access to all my preconceptions of truth.

I know this is a work that will never be complete in this life as I’m transformed into the image of Christ. But it is a huge example of how God will redeem what Satan meant for evil. God is faithful, faithful, faithful and can be fully trusted.

If I look at the church through the eyes of my experience, and the continued experiences of others, I can easily become overwhelmed by discouragement and slide back into bitterness. But one thing God is teaching me is to see it through His eyes.

Jesus died for this church! He died to sanctify a bride for Himself. The church is misunderstanding the truth of who He is and what all He died to accomplish. That is a cause for grief, not anger.

I cannot single-handedly fix the problem. But what I can do is what He has given me to do – teach the gospel. Jesus defined the gospel in Luke 4:18-19 – it is about more than just handing out free tickets to heaven. It is for the hurts of our todays! Jesus provided an amazing gift in His death and resurrection for our present days, not just our eternal destiny – and the church has virtually lost that truth in the bondage of our traditions.

If I am in bondage to bitterness and hurt, I cannot share the liberating truth of what Jesus came to offer to all of the body of Christ. And that “all” includes the very ones who have twisted the Word into a weapon – mostly in ignorance. God loves these people. In fact, these ones who hurt others are frequently themselves walking wounded, even if they will not ever admit to it publically or even to themselves in private. Wounded people wound people, as I’ve heard said many times.

I can’t free myself from the hurt of the past – but God is a faithful and sure healer. As I have sought Him, and continue to do so, He faithfully brings the balm of His comfort and healing to me. And He will do the same for every one of us who have been wounded inside the walls of buildings and institutions called “church.”