To Terrorize No More
by Brenda Branson and Paula Silva
Editor’s Note: We wanted to address this very important issue. While most ministry homes are safe shelters from the dangers of this world, there are some homes that promote abuse in the name of God. It is the saddest form of hypocrisy.
It’s hard to believe, but very real that a person can be so two faced or split in his heart and mind that he can abuse his wife, have affairs, denigrate his children, and go on living a guilt-free double life as a holy man of God.
We need to be aware of the possibility of such abuse in our neighborhoods, churches, and relative’s homes. Maybe even your own home is not honoring God. It says in Mal. 2:16 that God hates a man or woman who “clothes himself in violence.”
This article will shed some light on this problem and hopefully educate you and assure you that there is hope, and provide you with insight for helping those you know who may be facing these circumstances.The content of this article is applicable to any woman in an abusive relationship.
“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. 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 percent 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.
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. She wrote down the phone number and 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 from a broken family. She was terrified she would lose custody of the children if she left, since her husband was good with words and could convince the court that she was unfit with severe emotional problems.
“Tell me about a typical day,” encouraged the counselor.
“I feel like a prisoner in my own home. I have to account for every second of the day. I’m expected to awaken an hour before he does so I can shower and get dressed, put on makeup, and cook a full breakfast. I’m responsible for getting him up on time, for laying out his clothes, and warming up the car before he leaves for work. If anything goes wrong, he says it’s all my fault,” Julie said.
“He writes a list of daily chores for me, and warns me what will happen if I don’t do them. He gives me a weekly allowance which is supposed to cover groceries and gas. 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.”
“He calls 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. 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.”
“What happens when he comes home?” the counselor asked.
“He expects a spotless house and a hot meal on the table. If there are toys lying around or the children are too loud, he becomes enraged. After dinner, I do the dishes and get the children to bed. By then I’m totally exhausted, but he demands my attention until he is ready to go to bed. After telling me how incompetent and lazy I am, he gives me strict orders for the next day. 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 taut, 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 . . . ”
Julie explained that she must sit in the same room with him as he watches TV or prepares his sermon. “I need you to be with me,” he insists.
“Nighttime can be the most terrifying,” Julie said. “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 subsides 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 pulls me off the couch onto the floor. I lay there until I hear snoring noises from the bedroom, and then crawl back onto the couch to get a few hours of sleep before the next morning.”
“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. I’ve thought about killing myself. It’s better to go to Heaven than to live in hell on earth!”
The counselor met with Julie on a regular basis to help her identify her options and regain hope. She recommended several good books and invited her to a support group for pastors’ wives who are being abused.
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, 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.”
Paula Silva is president of FOCUS Ministries, Inc., a Christian organization ministering and providing free services to teens, women, and families who experience domestic violence, abusive relationships, separation, and divorce. Paula and Brenda Branson co-founded FOCUS Ministries in 1995 and coauthored the book, Violence Among Us: Ministry to Families in Crisis. For more information visit the website at www.focusministries1.or or call at 630-595-7023.