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:

  1. Go get counseling for yourself, deal with your own log first
  2. Don’t keep a record of wrongs, keep loving your spouse, allow the Spirit to work
  3. 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:

  1. You cannot possibly read this and not get a glimpse of what it is like to be on the receiving end of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse
  2. The book sets out 3 necessary ingredients of a thriving relationship and 5 patterns that destroy
  3. She gives ample attention to what God thinks about abuse and why some of the theology of “never give up, never divorce” is unbiblical
  4. She differentiates between trying harder (which is damaging) and building the CORE
  5. She explains how to prepare for a confrontation seeking repentance and then how to walk away if the spouse doesn’t respond
  6. Finally, she lists the top 5 mistakes that helpers commonly make

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


0 # Shalom 2013-09-13 22:44
Those three things were told to me by various counselors and people in the church as I struggled through a life of abuse. God hates divorce. Just love, honey. Pray. And most of all, SUBMIT. Really??? This is not Biblical and I regret listening to those who furthered negative dynamics in a family resulting in the next generation having major issues. This is, however, the way it's always been throughout history. There needs to be awakening in the church in both genders. Men and women need to work as partners in ministry and service, using the gifts God gave them. Marriage is also a partnership and submission is mutual. The love of Christ is to shine in every relationship so the world will see that love and come to know the Savior.
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0 # Philip Monroe 2013-09-14 07:12
Shalom, what you were told certainly violated the name you use in this post--peace! Thanks to you and others, there is an awakening in some corners of the church. Not nearly enough but a bit of light on the horizon. There will always be controllers and always be those who mis-use religious ideas to exercise power. Keep speaking this truth you end your post with: the love of Christ is to shine in every relationship...
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0 # Weary Traveler 2013-10-01 12:47
I am eagerly anticipating this book, though as a single parent of three children I'm not sure how I can afford it. I have heard those things from a former church regarding the abuse I experienced. I was also on the receiving end of inappropriate attention from a church leader, that I believe factored into why the church traumatized me more when I most needed help. (I read your other post on spiritual abuse as well) I barely have any faith left, having been threatened with church discipline if I didn't keep silent. I was then threatened with being publicly disgraced (by disclosing past struggles I shared in the confidence of counseling) if I disclosed the mistreatment by my church to those in the next step up in the chain of accountability. I regret every day my decision to back down as I worry I've set others up to be hurt. I want to move on and heal. I would like to find a church that is safe, where I can trust the leaders, but I fear I never will. Would any church actually side with me and show compassion for the trauma I've experienced when the church leaders discount my story? I struggle daily with whether God (if he's really real) wants me to talk openly about my story, or if I should continue remaining quiet.
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0 # Barbara Roberts 2014-03-30 04:56
Dear Weary, you are not alone. Myself and Ps Jeff Crippen are working on this issue, trying to awaken the evangelical church to domestic violence and abuse in its midst. I suggest you visit our blog A Cry For Justice; you will find many others there who understand and will support you. And we also have some suggestions about how you may find a safe church. You can find us at

And if you want a free copy of my book "Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion", just email me. You'll find my email at the blog. I give the book to survivors who can't afford to buy it.

Thank you for this post, Phil.

BTW, we like Leslie Vernick's book too. And Jeff Crippen's book "A Cry For Justice" is also excellent for pastors, counselors and victims of domestic abuse. He gets it.
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