Morning friend,

We’re going to be opening our doors to new CONQUER members on April 12. If you know a woman who has been anxious to get in, please have her join our waitlist and attend our free workshop on April 12, “How Long Do you Keep Trying? And how do you know change is real?” Click here to register.

Today’s question comes from a comment on our recent blog about the validity of emotional and verbal abuse. I thought her question deserved a larger response so I’m adding it as a separate post.

Today's Question: How do I get my church leadership to respond to the reality and validity of emotional abuse?

Answer: I’m sorry you are experiencing this from the very leaders God has put in place to help the oppressed. [Tweet “The Scriptures never invalidate or minimize the effects someone’s harsh actions and cruel words have on another person’s soul, spirit, and body.”]

A cursory reading through Scripture amply illustrates God’s disdain for mockers, abusers, deceivers, those who misuse their power, oppressors, revilers, ragers, hypocrites, and slanderers. For example, the psalmist says, “Your tongue cuts like a sharp razor; you’re an expert at telling lies. You love evil more than good and lies more than truth. You love to destroy others with your words, you liar!” (Psalm 52:2-5). 

David cries out to God, “Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles…..My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking.…. It is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend” (Psalm 55:2,4,5,13). 

Sadly some church leaders have failed to validate the destructive consequences of living with a foolish, argumentative, angry, deceitful, contentious, indifferent, hard-hearted, or evil person when the Scriptures are quite clear that the effects are real. The psalmist said, “Their insults have broken my heart and I am in despair” (Psalm 69:20). 

I wonder if we haven’t valued honesty as much as we preach it. When a woman goes to her church leadership and discloses what’s going on at home, she hopes to be supported and protected. But for some women, that’s not her experience. Instead, she’s been scolded, shamed, or shunned. She’s been told to bring her husband in for his side of the story. 

But how can she speak honestly with her husband present if she’s afraid of what will happen when they get home? She’s been told that she needs to be more submissive and try harder to make things work. She’s been told that there is nothing in the Bible called emotional abuse and therefore what she’s experiencing has no validity. She’s been told that God wants her to somehow figure out how to make her marriage work because God hates divorce. She’s been told what’s happening to her is not abusive. 

By our words are we telling her we don’t want to get involved or help her? That we don’t believe her? We encourage her instead to pray hard, keep quiet, placate, and pretend. And, if she refuses and gets persistent or demanding in her plea for help, we start to label her aggressive, contentious, rebellious, unsubmissive, deceitful, or unstable.  

I think sometimes church leaders are afraid to get involved because if they open their eyes to the truth of what’s going on in some homes, they’re not sure what to do. The church has usually valued the sanctity of marriage over the safety and sanity of the people in it. Therefore instead of offering refuge and protection, church leaders have encouraged Christian women to suffer for Jesus, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, persevere in love, forbear his sin, extend grace meaning put up with what most would label as emotional abusive actions and attitudes rather than speak up or stand up and have the church’s biblical ideologies challenged.

Yet we see in Scripture Jesus commending the persistent widow in Luke 18, who kept pestering the judge for legal protection against the injustice she was experiencing. God has put the church together not only to model a loving family to a broken world but also to model justice and protection when one of its members is destructive and unrepentant toward another. God said,” I was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm.” (Isaiah 63:5). 

Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” [Tweet “You can’t “get” your church leaders to see or to act, but you can invite them to and challenge them when they don’t.”]

Friend, what strategies have you used to invite your church leadership to “get it” when it comes to emotional or other kinds of non-physical abuse in your marriage? Did it work?

23 Comments

  1. Ally on March 30, 2022 at 2:45 pm

    Leslie,

    How have your blog posts lately been right on t argent with my life right now. Even the upcoming webinar is spot on for what I need help sorting out.

    But to answer the question of how have you gotten your church leaders to “get it.” Sadly, I did get them to see what was going on. But it took a story that had a physical component to it. My husband was using a physical touch, flirtatious spanking, that I hated. He had been doing this for nearly two decades with me protesting the entire time. I even tried to point out that it was teaching our daughters a bad acceptance of a behavior that we wouldn’t allow for her future boyfriends. But my husband didn’t care. He scolded me for not liking his touch, he lectured me for not being appreciative of his affection. Etc. finally I had enough and threatened physical retaliation. That finally got his attention and he stopped. But he then would paint me as violent to other people. It wasn’t until I shared this story with my pastor that he finally realized that I wasn’t the one being violent. I wish they could have seen it without a “physical abuse” story. The full leadership of the church is now aware of what is going on and we shall see how they respond and how well they help me. I am finally putting up (or is it down) boundaries for my husband. He is reacting to them in very bad ways. But knowing that I have the understanding of my church is giving me a strength that I didn’t have before. My ability to cope or continue on as before had finally reached its limit. I was reacting in a bad way. Now, I am still upset, but I am able to respond better. Not always. But I’m a work in progress and just beginning what I know will be a very, very difficult road.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 31, 2022 at 12:31 am

      Yes it will be a hard road ALly, and we’re here for you. YOu can do it. God is calling you to do it for you, for him and for your children. The workshop will help you also learn what real change looks like. Glad you are going to attend.

    • Mary on March 31, 2022 at 11:07 am

      My church also doesn’t see emotional abuse as a real thing. They only scold the congregation as a whole for physical abuse, as during a marriage series for instance. Barely even mentioning verbal abuse as unacceptable. But the pastor makes it ABSOLUTELY clear, loudly declaring, shouting even from the stage, that it is wrong to deny your husband sex for any reason except for fasting. That the bedroom is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” One high up pastor specifically told my husband that I am unbiblical for holding my boundaries against intimacy. He never once asked me what my husband was doing to me. For the 2 decades that we have known him personally. Even then I’m certain I would have been told to be more loving or submissive. As my church is a huge megachurch this is even more concerning. You don’t have to look far to see what happened to Hillsong and the loud noise their former American pastor Carl Lentz made about remaining pure while the whole time he was having a full sexual affair on his wife. As well as other leaders. Now I am uncomfortable and unsafe among pastors I have totally supported for decades. Makes me wonder about their integrity also. Are they using these sermons as a way to distract people from their own escapades or suspecting as such? It’s all I can do to continue my commitment to serve but I am definitely asking God what’s next because I can’t continue to attend somewhere and know that I’m judged.

    • Tammy on March 31, 2022 at 11:12 am

      I’m probably in the minority in that my church believed me. I was so relieved and thought I would have support and the church would be a safe place for me. But I was wrong. Though they were able to get my husband to leave the house, there was no support, except through texts. I was removed from all areas of service and my husband was as well but was able to return to serving in one area because he joined a LifeGroup. I was isolated, judged, shamed, etc. by the few who knew my story. No one ever checks in – not even through Covid. It isn’t enough to be believed. The church is not equipped to walk with the abused. I finally stopped going and my boys and I watch church on tv now. Church should have been a safe place for us and it wasn’t.

    • Tim on March 31, 2022 at 12:19 pm

      Ally, I applaud you for reaching a place where you are able to create and uphold boundaries! Whatever he tells you, or says to others, his negative responses to your boundaries says nothing about the validity of your boundaries. I allowed my ex-wife to tell me that my boundaries were abusive, and I want to validate you in holding to yours.

      It is a good sign that you can see where you were reacting ‘in a bad way’ before AND have come to a point where you are able to respond better! I want to affirm you in that process, that growth. When you look back at where your responses were unhealthy in the past, remember that God has forgiven you completely out of His love for you. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of looking back and beating yourself up for not being perfect at all times – I’m just now climbing out of that hole in my life. The fact that you are seeking growth, rather than staying put, is a sign of sanctification in your life.

      I praise God for you and for the work He is doing in your life. I pray that He brings healing to your family regardless of whether that healing is from a restored marriage or not, and I pray that your daughters learn from your growth and boundaries so that they can pursue healthy relationships in the future.

      • Ally on April 1, 2022 at 5:35 am

        Thank you.

  2. Allyson on March 30, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    Leslie,

    How have your blog posts lately been right on t argent with my life right now. Even the upcoming webinar is spot on for what I need help sorting out.

    But to answer the question of how have you gotten your church leaders to “get it.” Sadly, I did get them to see what was going on. But it took a story that had a physical component to it. My husband was using a physical touch, flirtatious spanking, that I hated. He had been doing this for nearly two decades with me protesting the entire time. I even tried to point out that it was teaching our daughters a bad acceptance of a behavior that we wouldn’t allow for her future boyfriends. But my husband didn’t care. He scolded me for not liking his touch, he lectured me for not being appreciative of his affection. Etc. finally I had enough and threatened physical retaliation. That finally got his attention and he stopped. But he then would paint me as violent to other people. It wasn’t until I shared this story with my pastor that he finally realized that I wasn’t the one being violent. I wish they could have seen it without a “physical abuse” story. The full leadership of the church is now aware of what is going on and we shall see how they respond and how well they help me. I am finally putting up (or is it down) boundaries for my husband. He is reacting to them in very bad ways. But knowing that I have the understanding of my church is giving me a strength that I didn’t have before. My ability to cope or continue on as before had finally reached its limit. I was reacting in a bad way. Now, I am still upset, but I am able to respond better. Not always. But I’m a work in progress and just beginning what I know will be a very, very difficult road.

  3. Autumn on March 30, 2022 at 5:28 pm

    Don’t waste your breath. If church leaders are interested interested, they will seek it themselves. At this point there are many resources to learn about abuse.

    However,……Restored UK, has a Beacon church education packet which is fabulous. A link to Wade Mullen’s site for spiritual abuse and Leslie’s suggestions for people helpers would be my next move if anyone seems remotely interested.

    • Dwight on March 31, 2022 at 12:57 pm

      I disagree with your opening line
      Holding those who are in positions of ministry services accountable is crucial
      They have a greater responsibility and accountability to God

      • Autumn on March 31, 2022 at 6:02 pm

        I hear you Dwight. Abuse survivors should guard their hearts from interacting with church leaders. The best people to advocate for policies about abuse are those who are trauma informed, yet not trauma victims. Victims just get re-triggered as the church is not “woke” or embraced the “me too” movement in seminaries to an extent that we have folded such truths into our congregations yet. We are headed in the direction of awakening congregants and leaders to various forms of abuse and exploration, but we are not there yet.

  4. Caroline Abbott on March 31, 2022 at 9:00 am

    Unfortunately, most pastors have no idea what to do with emotional abuse. I tried seeking help from mine, but they ended up taking his side. It was almost worse than the abuse itself. This prompted me to write my story, begin blogging, and create a DV Guide for Churches (information about abuse for church leaders). I also have a list of Bible verses about DV on my website. Later, I decided to become a counselor. I got my masters degree and now I counsel DV victims. God has walked me through the deep dark valley. He never left me nor did he forsake me.

  5. Meghan on March 31, 2022 at 11:53 am

    This is so hard. I’ve been out of my emotionally abusive marriage for 2 1/2 years now, and to be honest I still struggle at times because of the response I received when I finally went to a pastor that I 100% thought would be on my side. In a way it has left an emotional scar that is similar to the many left by my husband. I spent years having my husband tell me how I thought and minimizing any emotions and pain I experienced, and then was treated the same way by the person who was supposed to help me. Finally having the courage to speak up and not being believed was extremely damaging to me emotionally, and I think this is something pastors really need to understand. A few examples of his responses to me were:

    – an eye roll when I said that after years of searching and praying to try to find and rectify any sin on my part and see where I could be at fault in the situation, I had come to the conclusion that the issue was my husband and he needed help
    – when giving an example of my husband’s rage (which would come unprovoked for the smallest of offences, and which I often never saw coming), my husband’s disproportionate reactions were minimized and I was told he reacted that way because he felt misunderstood. I was blamed and made to feel that if I was more aware and attentive to his needs, he wouldn’t rage.
    – he asked, “does he hit you or abuse you sexually?” and I responded that he didn’t. After that the idea of abuse was no longer entertained.
    – I was told about other (anonymous) women who had come to him claiming emotional abuse. They were talked down about and made out to be the source of the issue, while their abuse was minimized and not believed. They were talked about as though they were rebellious for not taking their pastor’s advice and leaving the church to find godly leadership that would believe them.

    When women have spent years being unheard, broken down, minimized, and being told and believing twisted versions of themselves and their situation, being told by a pastor that how they feel is not legitimate is in a sense another form of abuse and can cause deep wounds. It’s so important for pastors to be trained about emotional abuse so they can respond appropriately to these dear sisters in Christ.

    • Tim on April 7, 2022 at 11:44 am

      Meghan, I am so sorry that you suffered that secondary, spiritual abuse from your pastor in your time of deepest need! It is DEFINITELY another form of abuse.

      While I didn’t get pushback from a counselor, there was one man in my life who misquoted bible verses at me when I told him I was thinking about divorcing my wife because of her emotional abuse. I have actually found it harder to forgive him than the person who was abusing me practically every day! There is something about being hurt by someone you expect to be trustworthy that can hurt more than the environment of abuse you get from a known source that you’re protecting yourself against. I imagine this would hurt much, much worse coming from your pastor, someone you’ve listened to and trusted as practically the voice of God.

  6. Phyllis on March 31, 2022 at 12:22 pm

    I am a product of such nonsupportive spiritual support and have used my pain and suffering as a healing rod to others by writing a book entitled “The End of Forever.” It should be published late 2022. The book also addresses the church’s response and provide practical recommendations for church leadership. It is my prayer that the book would be used by the Holy Spirit to shed light on the subject while providing spiritual support and guidance to the body of Christ. Much as Leslie Vernick and her team are doing on a daily basis. God bless you.

  7. Dwight on March 31, 2022 at 12:52 pm

    Always thanking God for Leslie and what she offers as an A+ Christ centered counselor
    Abuse in any form displeases God
    My spirit grieves when I hear about the abuse that too many wives have faced or are facing
    As a long time true follower servant of Jesus/Him centered husband/ dad & police officer my prayer and great hope is that pastor’s will be awakened by the Holy Spirit to reality of what so many wives are up against
    Tragic troubling shocking and sad
    It does go both ways though
    Husbands like myself have been abused by our wives
    Dwight ☝️🙏💪😇💜🚔🇺🇸

    • Moon Beam on March 31, 2022 at 6:05 pm

      https://www.restored-uk.org/what-we-do/engaging-men/

      You might like this group. First Man Standing.

      • Tim on April 1, 2022 at 12:42 pm

        Thank you for suggesting that group, I hadn’t heard of them before! I’m not Dwight, but have experienced my own abuse. I’m not fully healed, but I do want to begin seeing where God can use my history to draw me to help others.

        • Jesse on April 4, 2022 at 2:20 pm

          https://www.ananiasfoundation.org/

          This group is amazing for men and women! Hurt people hurt people, most are not evil or toxic contrary to what most spouses believe in the comments here. Our behavior CAN change and the abuse does go both ways so very often. When repentance and growth is seen as false or inauthentic and not recognized and/or encouraged by our church and especially our family it becomes its own form of abuse.

          I encourage everyone to look at this group and see what true healing looks like.

  8. Hannah on March 31, 2022 at 2:56 pm

    Absolutely invite your church into the conversation around abuse and trauma! I actually started an organization that works to do exactly this… train the church to in Christ-centered advocacy for victims. A church that is soft to God’s heart, should be (at minimum) willing to listen and learn.

    • Kathy on March 31, 2022 at 4:52 pm

      Hi Hannah, I would love to know if there are organizations in my area, and about the organization you started and possibly organize one myself.
      I have reached out to several churches, doesn’t seem to be any help for us women that have or are in emotionally abusive relationships. There Is so much healing that needs to be done and learn why we get in these relationships in the first place. I would appreciate if you would share your information.
      Thank you, Kathy

  9. Free on March 31, 2022 at 5:49 pm

    So many of us are leaving or rethinking how we do church. Who started the evangelical fundamentalist church movement. The scriptures have been twisted by the doctrinal designers to plotted to emphasize certain scriptures while ignoring other scriptures. The goal has been to subjugate women to silent, submissive sex objects . That just doesn’t seem to fit the character of God. When will the patriarchy end? Do they worship God or their institutions?

    So many, many people left the church during Covid and they are not coming back. How can we do fellowship differently? The church isn’t prepared to deal with abuse as is taught in the book of Samuel. The social needs of our society have out paced the capabilities of our present church structure.

  10. Kate on April 1, 2022 at 11:58 am

    I’m exceedingly grateful that my church leaders truly “got it.” And walked every step alongside me, with protection at the forefront & restoration in the prayers – but, never rushed. They acted Biblically through Matthew 18. I will say that they were intentional to put in work on research, training, and had resources ready *in advance* for situations like mine. My pastor’s wife walked me through an incredible resource (similar to the Conquer Course from Leslie – which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!) called Mending the Soul. When leadership is open to feedback and realistic about the world we live in, the impact is evident within the health of their church body. I agree with giving them Leslie’s article geared towards people helpers. Sending you all love + a hug. This is hard *and* you’re doing a great job.

  11. Liz on May 17, 2022 at 3:04 pm

    This perspective that many churches have in telling wives to continue to submit to their abusive husbands and put up with abuse, and how my ex husband used to twist words from the Bible as well to control me made me almost completely turn away from God. For awhile I was angry at God because I never understood why He would allow me to be abused. But I realized that this only speaks to the evilness of man and why we need to turn to His word for guidance, His ways are perfect, not ours. At the same time, God tells me that the abuse is not my fault and that vengeance is His for those who remain unrepentant for their mistreatment towards me. He is angry that others tried to deceive me and drawing me away from Him. I still pray for God to open my ex husband’s and other church leaders’ eyes to denounce abuse and truly hold abusers accountable in alignment with God’s word.

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