A responder to my previous post has prompted today’s story and comment.
“What is so very disheartening,” she wrote, “is: it is ‘the church’ (her church), the leadership and long-time members that don’t care about abusive relationships as long as the marriage ‘looks decent’ in the public eye. Sadly, it is the secular crowd that have actually given me the protections that I have needed…”
IN FRONT OF GOD AND EVERYBODY
I remember a case from years ago involving a young woman named Lisa, my sister’s room-mate at the time. Lisa was seven months pregnant when the incident, detailed below, occurred.
Lisa had recently left her husband because he was verbally and physically abusive. The day she escaped from him he had dragged her behind his truck the length of their driveway. She somehow managed to get away, pregnant and all. She secured a restraining order and began divorce proceedings. Friends helped her move when “Jerry” was not at home.
Fast forward a few months. He was still harassing her from time to time (my sister had to call 911 at one point when he decided to come by and create what verbal trauma he could), but he seemed to be getting the message.
No. More. Access. To. Lisa.
And the baby.
As it turned out, Jerry was only biding his time and honing his abuse skills.
Because they were both attendees at a local, large church, he decided to take the “Christian husband” route with her. At least his version of it.
One Sunday he came to church late (no doubt so that he could sneak up on Lisa) and during the service, squeezed in beside her in the pew. My sister and I, sitting in a different part of the church, didn’t see him come in, or we would have immediately gone to afford what help we could.
During the last hymn, when the congregation was standing at worship, we felt someone crowding in between us (we’d both had our eyes closed as we sang). It was Lisa.
As the singing continued, she rasped, “He’s here. He came in late, found me, and he’s had his arm clenched around my shoulders so I couldn’t get away. I finally had to tell him I had to go to the bathroom, and he let go of me.”
She was shaking by this time and speaking in between quiet sobs.
The song ended and people began to leave the pews. While Lisa clung to my sister, I quickly made my way over to the closest “elder,” “Gene,” the music minister.
“Please come quick!” I told him, pointing in the direction of my sister and our friend. “Our friend’s husband is here. She left him because of abuse. He’s harassing her and she’s scared! Can you help her? Order him to leave your property?”
He stopped playing the exit music and looked over at the scene. I noticed, just then, that Jerry had made his way from his seat to where his wife and my sister were standing. Even from a distance, I could see the agitation in Jerry’s demeanor.
As Gene and I made our way back to the trio, Jerry’s stuccato, “You have to forgive and forget, Lisa, forgive and forget, forgive and forget…” punched the air. Lisa clung even closer to my sister. As we came up next to them, Jerry changed his tone abruptly.
“Pastor Gene,” he began, in a pleading tone, tell my wife she needs to forgive me…”
Gene looked from one to the other. Lisa had stopped crying for the moment. She stood, frozen, still clinging to my sister.
“Well, Jerry,” he began, “Can you see that Lisa is a little upset just now?”
Jerry hung his head.
“I think,” continued Gene, “You and your wife should come in for marriage counselling.”
Jerry smiled a little. “Okay,” he said, in a conciliatory tone, although the glance he shot at Lisa, which I could see from where I stood, was pierced with rage. “We can do that, right, Lisa?”
Lisa said nothing.
Another church “elder,” an administrator, came alongside us, too. He also said nothing. Just watched.
I drew Gene aside. “But, you don’t understand,” I began, thinking I could convey the real danger Lisa might be in just now if she was not protected. “LISA HAS A RESTRAINING ORDER OUT ON JERRY. HE ALMOST KILLED HER.”
Gene looked at me, seemingly not impressed with any sense of urgency.
“But we don’t know that,” he said. “We don’t know that she didn’t just stub her toe on her way up here which caused her to become so upset.”
Now I was shocked silent.
STUBBED HER TOE???
“Gene, my sister rooms with her. LISA HAS A RESTRAINING ORDER OUT ON HIM. HE TRIED TO KILL HER. MY SISTER HAS ALREADY CALLED 911 ON HIM.”
(Perhaps Gene hadn’t heard me fully the first time, or perhaps he didn’t know what a restraining order is.)
“Lisa could be in real danger, here!” I finished.
But Gene had already moved back to the group.
“Okay, then, Jerry,” he said, “come by the office tomorrow and set up an appointment.”
“Sure,” he said.
Okay with you, Lisa?” Gene asked.
She stood, silent, still clinging to my sister. She and Jerry had been to counselling before. Didn’t work.
The other elder continued to watch.
Jerry backed off a bit, still smiling, actually, more smirk than smile.
The elders left.
Just then, an usher who had witnessed everything came up to us.
“I will be glad to walk the three of you out to your cars,” he said, his eye on Jerry, his voice, tense.
“Thank you,” we said, grateful for some real help in this obviously traumatic and potentially very dangerous moment for Lisa.
Jerry hung back, but followed us out. Lisa stayed close to my sister, still not speaking.
“Well,” sneered Jerry, now out of earshot of any elder, “It’s not like I was going to hurt her! She’s my wife, after all! I’m her husband!”
I shot him a quick glance. “This is appropriate,” is all I said.
He soon walked away. We tried to convince Lisa she should leave her car here for now and ride with us, but she wanted to drive her own car, maybe go out to her parents’ for the day.
As we stood there and watched Jerry hop in his truck and squeal out of the parking lot, she added these words.
“WHO WILL HELP ME NOW?”
“Who will help me now?” she said, looking down, despair in her voice.
She had just been disbelieved, disrespected, and disregarded by, now, not just her abusive husband, but by the leadership of her church who should have protected her—and confronted him.
I called the music minister the next day for further conversation, clarification—anything—to no avail.
Although she faced many additional struggles Lisa survived but not because of that church which, just like her husband, had abandoned her, for whatever reason, in her greatest time of need, choosing their own version of what went on and the nature of the relationship and her husband’s responses, over the reality of the danger she was in.
THE TRAGEDY OF DOGMA OVER DANGER
Although our efforts to help Lisa in that church proved fruitless I knew I would one day recount this story and perhaps others charged with protecting the Body of Christ, not just the precepts or policies of their institutions, might do something about it for “the Lisas” in their own congregation . So I took good notes.
But if not, I believe it is still a poignant “reveal” of what happens when churches choose dogma over danger, “relationship entitlement,” if you will, over a relationship with Jesus Christ Who sets captives free and rescues those in distress.
As my blog responder said, the secular world often gives more help than the church. But thank God it’s there and much more available and aware nowadays than back in Lisa’s day. Some churches have also finally come up to speed on abuse and its destructive effects on families, but, sadly, still too few.
As my responder also noted, at least in her case, in her church, the marriage that “looks decent” in public is valued over the tragedy that takes place behind closed doors.
Wherever this is the case, it has to stop.
Help from a Biblical standpoint and featured in my previous post: https://bible.org/article/verbal-abuse
For those in immediate need, a place to start if your church is in denial:
http://www.thehotline.org/ also known as the National Domestic Violence Hotline. (This is not gender specific.)
National Help Hotline for Abused and Battered Women, http://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/help-for-abused-and-battered-women.htm
I also recommend these books:
Why Is He So Mean To Me? by Cindy Burrell
WHY Does He DO That? By Lundy Bancroft
Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman, M.D.
Any of the books by Patricia Evans on verbally abusive relationships.
The Book of Proverbs in the Bible is perhaps the best and most inclusive source of definition and clarity on the topic of the nature and danger of abusive, angry people, and how to deal with them.