Morning friends,

Hope you have joined our Moving Beyond Challenge for this week. Today is Day Three, Moving beyond Unrealistic Expectations. The confusing part about our expectations is that often they are perfectly reasonable (at least to us). For example, it’s not unreasonable to expect our kids to listen to us, or our husband to be honest with us, or our parents to be supportive. But when that doesn’t happen, our expectations can get us into trouble. Join me in the rest of the Moving Beyond challenge and learn how to move beyond some of your most stuck places. Click here to join. 

Today’s Question: Our pastor has said he is feeling pulled in both directions and being asked to take sides in a destructive marriage. He says he feels led to just love my friend and her husband while “they figure this out.”

Our pastor has refused to look at the documentation or listen to threatening voicemails left by the husband. He even called the husband to warn him that the police were looking for him after he violated a protection order! In the beginning of all this, he said my friend needed to drop the protection order so he could get them together for marriage counseling!

Should she look for another church? We love our pastor but he is making things worse. I asked him if he would consider viewing one of Chris Moles YouTube videos & he responded curtly with the whole “loving both of them & feeling pulled” thing.

We live in a rural area & the closest counseling from links on Chris Moles website is 3 hours away.

Thank God for YouTube & books! Thank you.

Answer: I get many of these types of questions regarding a lack of good church care. Pastors get very little if any training on dealing with abuse and often rely on the only thing they know and that is to try to love both the sinner and the sinned against and see saving the marriage as God’s highest priority.

But you’re right. Your pastor is making things worse and putting your friend in greater danger. God has put governing authorities in place to protect us from evil doers, even if they happen to be a spouse (Romans 13). The law has provided some safety and protection for your friend through issuing a protection order because of her husband’s own abusive behavior and now he has also violated that order.

By warning your friend’s husband that the police were looking for him and asking the wife to drop the legal protection God put in place so that he can do marriage counseling, your pastor has taken sides. He isn’t staying out of it and “letting them figure things out” but he’s gotten involved, even if he’s not ready to admit it.

There is no NEUTRAL stance a bystander can take when someone is in an abusive relationship. Click To Tweet

When a pastor, counselor, or even well-meaning friends try to stay neutral, what it ends up happening by default is a silent endorsement of the abuse. For God calls us to speak up against oppression in every form, not stay neutral. So when we say nothing, it implies an endorsement or an assessment of “It’s not that bad.”

Martin Luther King said it best when he said, “What hurt the most was not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” All the research on bullying behavior shows that neutrality from the bystanders only serves to reinforce the bully’s behavior. It’s only when the bystanders stand up for the victim, does the bully start to lose power.

From what you describe your pastor is acting as an expert in areas he knows very little about and he’s unwilling to receive counsel or be educated to understand what best practices are. Saving the marriage is not the first goal here. Your friend’s safety is, and the behaviors of your pastor could put her in more danger.

Does she need to find another church? Perhaps, although there are no guarantees that another pastor will be wiser handling these difficult situations. But it sounds as if there are good people like you in the church who want to see your church leaders be better informed and equipped to handle these situations.

It’s disheartening to me with all the recent media, liability, and publicity regarding the mishandling of abuse cases by the Catholic and Southern Baptist Churchs, as well as the daily news reports of a woman being murdered by her husband, that your pastor or any pastor wouldn’t feel a strong need to be better informed. Why wouldn’t he welcome the opportunity to get more education and help to manage these situations in his congregation that are going to come up? Don’t allow him to wiggle out of it by claiming neutrality. He’s already taken sides and muddied the waters.

I’d highly encourage you to share with your pastor the link below so he can download the free video training sponsored by the Southern Baptist Church that helps church leaders understand and learn how to wisely, safely and Biblically handle the abuse of all kinds. Safety always comes first, not duct tape repairs of an abusive and unsafe marriage. It’s at www.churchcares.com If he continues to refuse, I’d bring it to the elder's attention.  

Friends, what have you done to try to find a safe church or educate your church leaders on these crucial issues?  

24 Comments

  1. Frances on June 19, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    My aunt is in an emotionally destructive relationship. She is no longer “allowed” to drive, go to church, or really have friends outside the family. My uncle goes with her everywhere; I don’t think they are ever apart except in different rooms at home. I want to be a good bystander, but I have no idea what to do. She’s afraid of his angry verbal attacks. They have a son who is about 9. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Free on June 20, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      Frances, welcome to this community. The first thing you can do is educate yourself about the complexities of domestic abuse. There is something called the Power and Control wheel which is a template to determine if abuse is happening in a relationship. You might google it or suggest it to your Aunt. Then I would recommend you contact your local domestic violence center and/or the national domestic violence hotline. Their advice will help you and other family member create a plan.

      Read Lundy Bancroft’s books and Leslie’s too. The rationale because women stay in such a situation is very complex. Victims struggle to leave and are under mental oppression similar to the “brain washing” prisoners of war experience.

      • JoAnn on June 20, 2019 at 7:33 pm

        I’m also concerned about the boy. He may be being abused too, perhaps in more subtle ways. Frances, if you can get any time alone with her, start by sharing your concern that she seems unhappy. Then maybe she will open up to you. The better informed you are, the more helpful you can be. The Lord is with you.

  2. Connie on June 19, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    In ‘Safe People’, a safe person is one who is open to new information. This pastor was not. If this husband has already had a restraining order, that tells me there is danger and she needs support now. Sure you can give the pastor a website, et. ,but I sure wouldn’t wait around for him to ‘get it’. There is no time for that.

  3. blessed on June 19, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    I’m not saying you are wrong in your assessment, Leslie, because you are the expert not I, but I think you are unduly harsh towards this pastor. You say he is being an expert in a field he is not trained in–but I see a guy who knows he is not trained and doesn’t even want to be in that whole mess, but feels a sense of responsibility because of his position. This guy is doing his best, and is clearly not doing a great job, but at least he is trying instead of shunning this couple. Frankly, I’m not sure the pastors at my church would even try to be that helpful.

    • Ruth on June 19, 2019 at 9:56 pm

      Did you read where this pastor warned this guy to hide from the police bc he had violated his wife’s restraining order? 😮
      I wouldn’t call that trying to help.
      I think Leslie’s assessment of this pastor was spot on.

      • Nancy on June 20, 2019 at 6:52 am

        I’m confused…

        Is a ‘restraining order’ considered a legal document that is enforced by the law,?

        Didn’t this preacher do more than ‘get involved’, Didn’t he actively help someone avoid the consequences of breaking a judge’s order?

        How is this any different from a person letting any other law breaker know that the police are nearby?

        Shouldn’t this preacher be held accountable to the judge that ordered this protection?

        • Nancy on June 20, 2019 at 7:01 am

          Sorry, I should have entered this as a new comment. This isn’t particular to this thread.

        • JoAnn on June 20, 2019 at 7:36 pm

          Nancy, I believe it’s called “aiding and abetting a criminal.” Definitely wrong.

          • Nancy on June 21, 2019 at 4:22 pm

            That’s what I thought, Joann but then thought I must be wrong because if he broke the law then surely this should be mentioned in the response… that’s why I’m confused.

            Since this Pastor broke the law, that’s pretty black and white. Shouldn’t he be reported?



    • Aly on June 20, 2019 at 10:56 pm

      Blessed,
      What you may define as ‘helpful’ could be in actuality as ‘hurtful’ to the situation that is being discussed.
      Your comment regarding the pastor not wanting to be in this whole mess goes against a lot of biblical counseling that many pastors are well educated on but that doesn’t make them cut out for the role.
      Life is messy, and marriages especially can be messy. Some churches see the necessity of having on staff counseling that is not from the main teaching pastor.
      Just because someone feels a sense of responsibility doesn’t make them good candidates to be involved (as helpers) in these domestic issues especially when a restraining order is already involved.

  4. Becca on June 19, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    Having similar issues of church members seeming to “take sides” & not reaching out, but requiring me to reach out the majority of the time instead. Maybe my expectations are too lofty though, because they really have never walked in my shoes. Idk. Love them but unsure.

  5. Michele L on June 19, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    I agree, He has taken a side. Even if he would disagree that being a silent bystander reinforces a bully, thus taking the side of the bully by not protecting the harmed, He definitely chose a side by warning the husband that the police were looking for him…he sided with the husband. I am sure to the wife that is devastating and felt like her safety does not matter to this pastor! I can totally under a pastor saying I do not know how to deal with this type of situation, but he should have a couple places for them to turn to for help. He should be saying, it is NEVER ok to abuse someone. I really pray that this new churchcares curriculum spreads like wild fire thru the churches.

  6. Autumn on June 20, 2019 at 5:16 am

    My abusive husband, in his delusional state, met with our senior pastor. He told him of his history of being an abusive spouse and brought materials from very sources to give the pastor. My delusional “reformed” spouse wanted to create and lead a group at the church for abusive men.

    The pastor replied that in his thirty years as a pastor, he had never met or spoken to any member of his congregation who had such a problem. No, he replied, nothing like that happens at his church.

  7. Autumn on June 20, 2019 at 5:27 am

    I wonder if we could take a poll of those who read this blog and participate in it’s programs and find out what percentage of people would say they received realistic help from their church leadership? Sadly, I have concluded that the church is not the first place to go for help in these kinds of situations. Abusers hide in church communities. They employ and twist so many doctrines to advance their agenda. ( I can start anew, sins washed away, submit to me, authority over women, don’t judge etc)

    • Autumn on June 20, 2019 at 7:33 am

      My rationale for this is if you break a bone you go to the ER and see an orthopedic surgeon. Then you seek fellowship and support in your church community. Might there be a doctor in your congregation? Sure, but don’t bet on it. If you break a bone, go to a hospital, not a church. If you are living with a dangerous person, you go to the police, not the church. If are are living with a criminal, again the police, not the pastor. If you are living with someone who is mentally ill, seek mental health providers, not your pastor. Might the pastoral team and congregation lend support? Absolutely. But be wise and seek the right provider for your problem.

      YOUR problem, not theirs. Your problem is that you are living with a dangerous person, need shelter, protection and the ability to escape from your torturer posing as a spouse You can’t fix your spouse, you can only fix yourself. Some times women go straight to the church because they know God can fix anything. In this case, common sense needs to prevail, a fool is a fool. Only they can change themselves, most never do.

      • Nancy on June 20, 2019 at 9:18 am

        These are excellent points, Autumn.

        Once a person knows that they are not experiencing ‘normal relational difficulties’ it doesn’t make sense to go to a pastor.

        More than anything else Pastor’s should be trained to know when they are in over their head. If police are involved that should be a ‘no brainer’. Since I don’t know the law, my main question is this:

        Did he break the law by informing the husband that the police were looking for him?

        I don’t see his involvement as ‘the silence of friends’, nor as him staying neutral. He chose to ACTIVELY protect a dangerous person from the law.

        I agree that this is not a neutral stance. He made an overt choice to side with a dangerous man when he picked up that phone.

        I thank God that this woman has a friend like you in her life, to help her see things clearly! God Bless you.

    • Aly on June 20, 2019 at 8:34 am

      Autumn,
      Sadly, I think you have a pretty good hypothesis about where one has truly received help (not reinforcement) for their circumstances when dealing with destructive individuals.
      You mentioned above about abusers hiding in church communities. Personally, I have seen that not many destructive individuals see themselves as that. Its probably quite common that in many church communities, a lack real accountability is offered and surely most comfy for the destructive person as well as their level of denial and skewed lens. Many destructive individuals find more uniformed empathetic people (not wanting to be the bad person or be disliked by the person who needs to be getting professional care) to surround themselves with in these church communities or they create their own. I agree with you on the convenience of: sins washed away, start anew, don’t judge…
      Destructive individuals that don’t get interventions have a skewed lens that not only twists scripture, feeds denial but keeps them stuck and it influences others around them.
      They tend to like the idea of forgiveness and salvation but don’t like the character growth involved.

      Those who do find a church where there is more accountability and a community that fosters biblical truth, love and transformation through Christ, often leave that church based on how uncomfortable it can get being surrounded by people transforming and loving others well as growth gets fostered.

  8. Barbara B on June 20, 2019 at 10:38 am

    The thought of trying to educate church leaders gives me stress hives. I think my church is actually pretty decent in comparison to some other churches. At least my church will tolerate a woman who has already decided to separate from or divorce an abuser. However, when an abused woman hasn’t decided yet and asks for advice from pastors, she is told to stay in the relationship, be forgiving, etc. The few times I have attempted to educate pastors they treated me with condescension, as though I were a child without the intelligence or experience to understand how things work. I have served in my church for over 30 years, but there is such a strong patriarchal leadership mentality I think they just can’t believe a woman could have a valid opinion about church leadership issues.

    • Jo on June 20, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      I love my church for so MANY reasons. However, when we went to a Certified Biblical Counselor, who was on staff, I preemptively sent him an email about our background, including my husband’s sex addiction (in the form of anonymous sex) that has lasted our entire relationship (including the dating period), emotional abuse, and financial abuse. I told him that I don’t always feel safe bringing this up in front of my husband, so I wanted to be sure he understood what he was walking in to. I received NO RESPONSE, and so the day before (under my therapist’s suggestion) I sent the pastor another email asking him if he was familiar with emotional abuse and if he’d ever heard about Leslie Vernick, and I even included a link to help him understand a little more. He responded “I’m very familiar with emotional abuse”.

      In the meeting, he started to badger me about why I didn’t feel safe and if God was going to heal our marriage, then I HAD to be 100% honest and open about my fears and feelings in front of my husband and the pastor. I sent him a follow up email the next day explaining how that was very unhelpful and even did more damage and included another article to be sure he understood our dynamics. He responded that unless I opened up (to a known UNsafe person) and shared my entire heart, then God would not heal the marriage, no empathy for my fears or what I’ve been through, just matter-of-factly placing the entire burden on me.

      Thank you, Jesus, that I have support from a secular therapist (who happens to be a Believer) and parents who have lived through this very same thing and God restored their marriage! I was able to walk away and understand that this pastor just didn’t know what he was doing in this situation. I still attend the church because it is an amazing body of believers who are committed to growing and discipling others for Christ, but their counseling was a disappointment.

      • Jo on June 20, 2019 at 2:12 pm

        And here’s a swift kick in the gut… After I looked at the website listed on this page for Church Cares, our church is actually a plant from JD Greear’s church!

  9. hopenewland on June 20, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    I think one of the challenges in turning to church leadership for help is that abuse is so often seen automatically as a marriage problem at its core. When it actually is a personal problem impacting a marriage, as Lezlie has said. But I think that’s a hard distinction for leadership to make without appearing to be taking sides and/or without further education on the dynamics of abuse.

  10. Janice D on June 25, 2019 at 5:46 am

    It is interesting that this pastor chose to undermine the God ordained role of government by alerting this man.He would probably not see the hypocrisy the next time he preaches on the need for the law to restrain evil in our society.Women and children are often most vulnerable and exposed to evil in their own homes at the hands of the man ( husband/ father) who is charged with providing for and protecting them.Yet these abuses and crimes are soft- petaled and minimized in order to preserve marriage and prevent a” broken home”.The church needs to repent of this and become the strongest advocate for women and children,not a secondary abuser.The evil that is covered up in “ Christian” homes is truly astonishing.A pastor stating that he has never encountered abuse in 30 years is living in denial and sinning against his congregation.There needs to be a zero tolerance about this…it is everyone’s responsibility to become educated on this topic.I am so grateful for Leslie and her calling to break through the heavy wall of denial that exists in conservative Christianity.Her statement that God cares about the safety and sanity of the person in the marriage was an eye opener for me and began my journey out of confusion and chaos that was my marriage.

    • Autumn on June 25, 2019 at 7:47 pm

      I have been reflecting and learning more about body language. Experts on the subject of kinesics can quickly dispel the “he says she says” myths. Think about it, if we read the facial expressions of those seeking counsel and watch how they position themselves when with their destructive spouse, it is easy to read the real dynamic. Now, how do we get education like kinesics into the church and why should we?

      I have heard many women report that they were trying to give eye motions or facial expressions to their pastor in an attempt to cry for help when in couples counseling. I guess this all points me back to the thought that the first place to seek help is the police, not the pastor. Police are trained to read body language, and can often pick out liars. They are committed to protect and serve. When the husband/ spouse is not protective, it has to be reported so our laws can do what they were intended to do. If we hide criminals in the church, how does it affect our testimony?

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