Written by Phil Monroe
Friday, 06 September 2013 00:00
Consider this scenario:
Cheryl, a wife of one of your deacons comes to you with a story of woe. Though they are seen as pillars of the church, she reports that her husband is emotional abusive. He regularly belittles her at home, calling her names in front of the children. He demands sex on a regular basis, whether his wife is interested or not. He refuses to help with chores around the home. He regularly accuses her of wasting money and demands receipts for all expenditures. He is deaf to her requests for emotional support as she navigates a difficult employer. This experience is not new for her as she reports he has been this way since the beginning of their marriage 15 years ago. As her pastor, you are a bit shocked. You’ve been in their home on numerous occasions. You have had conversations alone with this woman. Nothing in her demeanor would have suggested that she was being harmed. Yet here she is in your office alleging that her husband is a domestic abuser.
And yet you are not so shocked. Your own experiences with the deacon tell you that he has been unempathic to those seeking financial help from the church. He tends to be suspicious of the motives of others on the board. He is argumentative. He uses sarcasm and “friendly” put-downs as a way of relating to others. As you consider Cheryl’s story, you realize you will need to respond. She is looking for more than sympathy. She wants support either to force her husband into counseling (he refused to go at her request) or to ask him to move out.
What advice do you give to Cheryl? What are the issues that come to the forefront of your mind? What goals to you wish to pursue first?
Do you want her to keep trying to please her husband? Do you want her to deal with her portion of the marital problems? Do you want to confront the deacon? Do you want her to go away? Do you want to refer her to a counselor? Do you want to steer clear of the abuse word and just focus on the sin of selfishness?
The issues, concerns, and goals that rise to the surface for you will likely influence the advice and direction you give to Cheryl. Notice the land mines waiting for you? To wade in will cause disruptions to ministry. To wade in will make enemies and potentially divide families and even congregations.
Sadly, pastors and church leaders have not always dealt well with victims of domestic abuse. One of the reasons for this is that when victims get the courage to speak up, they are often frazzled, emotional, confused, and no longer able to be flexible. In contrast, the offenders are often self-righteous, well defended, logical, and armed with scripture to point out the sin of their victim spouses. As a result, many victims of spousal abuse (male or female) are told one of these things:
Go get counseling for yourself, deal with your own log first
Don’t keep a record of wrongs, keep loving your spouse, allow the Spirit to work
God is against divorce
One New Resource to Give You Guidance
Most of us want to do better than the above advice. But, these he said, she said scenarios are difficult to tease apart and the water gets murky really fast. But there are some resources out there that can guide a pastor, counselor or a victim in dealing with domestic abuse. In about 2 weeks, Leslie Vernick will publish her next book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (Waterbrook Press). Having previewed a copy, I highly recommend it. Here are some of the reasons:
If you plan on serving in the church, you will confront the problem of emotional and physical abuse. There are other resources but I know of none other that are as clear, direct, and helpful.
Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program and the Global Trauma Recovery Instituteat Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates and blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.