You don't know me but I could easily be someone that you know. I could be your sister, your friend, your next-door neighbor, or one of your parishioners attending Mass on Sunday. My story is one that could be and is shared by many others, including women in your parish.
I am a survivor of spouse abuse but you might never have suspected, it. The code of silence, the immobilizing terror, and the intense shame have kept me from telling anyone for a long time. Yet, I am writing to let you know how incredibly important you are and can be to help women like me recover from the trauma of abuse by someone who initially promised that he would love, honor, and cherish his partner.
It has taken me more than 20 years to finally feel safe enough from my abuser and secure enough in my relationship with God to share my story with you. The past eight years have been spent trying to pick up the pieces and move on with my life, raise my children, and heal the deep wounds left in the aftermath of many years of battering. By the grace of God, I indeed have come a long way in this process. I went on to complete my doctorate and am a professor at a university in this archdiocese.
My faith in God, the support of several pastors who walked with me during various phases of the healing process, and the response of the larger faith community were instrumental in moving towards wholeness. However, it was also from a pastor that I received the dangerous advice to remain in the marriage. As I share my story, I'd like to focus on the pastoral responses that either helped or hindered my escape from the abuse as well as facilitated my healing.
Unless you are particularly attuned to the signs of abusive behavior, the daily signs can be hidden by an abuser well-versed in deception and manipulation. The verbal abuse started almost immediately and quickly escalated during the early years of the marriage. So did his threats to "destroy" me and to commit suicide. Although I realized that the behavior was abusive, I felt trapped because the abuse began at a time when domestic violence issues were just being recognized and taken seriously. Most importantly, the abuse generally occurred without the benefit of witnesses. Who would believe me or my story since they did not see it?
In the third year of my marriage, I approached my pastor-confessor and revealed for the first time to anyone that I was being abused. The pastor who knew me so well sent me back to my abuser saying, "if you won't help him, who will?" His response just augmented my feelings of guilt and shame about wanting to leave the relationship. For nearly a decade, it also kept me from telling anyone else about the abuse.
During that decade, the abuse escalated. Threats of physical violence became more frequent and the emotional and psychological abuse intensified. I was now routinely called a "whore" and accused of being unfaithful with anyone and everyone. All of my actions were monitored and I became increasingly isolated from family and friends. I got caught up in, the pattern of changing my behavior in the hopes of stopping the violence. Anything I did was not enough to stop the abuse. Only later would I come to realize that I never had the ability to stop the abuse. He did.
However, the most devastating, humiliating, and shame-filled acts of abuse were the times that I experienced what is know as a battering rape. This refers to episodes when the abuser first batters a woman psychologically or physically for hours and then proceeds to rape her. This dehumanizing act leaves you in a state of total violation and terror. For years I was literally immobilized by fear thinking that there was nowhere that I could go and feel safe again. There were many nights when I simply prayed that I would be alive the next day. If I stayed or if I left, I knew that the abuse would continue; that my abuser would not stop his behavior. At the time, I stayed because it seemed to be the safer option. I at least knew what he was up to. In many ways, my life became one of just trying to survive. However, it also became one where I began looking and planning for ways to escape the abuse.
An unexpected out-of-state job opportunity provided the means by which I finally became physically distanced from my abuser and accorded the first tangible opportunity to leave and start over. When I approached the pastor at my new parish, my decision to leave the marriage was affirmed by his acceptance of my story and by his statement, "This is not the life that God intended for you." These were the words that I had longed to hear from my Church -- words that enabled me to let go of the sense of guilt and responsibility to stay in the marriage at all costs. Besides being supportive during a very volatile and difficult divorce, my pastor and other members of the faith community helped ensure my safety and the safety of my children. I'll always remember the pastoral team members who watched my children so I could go to my divorce hearing without fearing that my abuser would successfully carry out his threat to kidnap them.
Further affirmation from the Church was received from the diocesan tribunal that granted my annulment petition. The support of the Church was a critical turning point in my healing process. I had finally broken the code of silence and I had not been ridiculed or criticized because I had told my story. To receive the recognition that the terror I had experienced did not constitute a "sacramental" marriage was profoundly life-giving.
Since the divorce and annulment, I continued to be harassed and threatened by my abuser but I have learned how to protect myself and my children from the abuse. I have not been afraid to use the legal system and other community resources as needed to work through the after-effects of the abuse. However, one of the most important and life-giving resources for me has been the continued support of other pastors and parishioners. The truth of my story has never been questioned -- listening and believing is one of the most powerful things that you can do to help a woman move from being a victim to being a survivor. Not questioning or judging our decisions is another way of affirming us as we reconstruct our lives. Being patient during the slow healing process is another way to support us since our healing does not necessarily follow your timetable. My life has been blessed by the presence of individuals who have been gracious enough to continue to walk this journey with me at my own pace and under my terms.
Finally and perhaps most importantly for my continued growth, I've been able to explore faith issues with several pastors over the years. I was very fortunate to never experience pastoral care that used Scripture to justify the battering so that was not one of my faith issues. In my case specifically, I have had to deal with my anger towards my abuser, something that may never fully fade away. Although I never became angry with God because of the abuse, I had to become reacquainted with a loving, merciful God who loved me unconditionally and loved me as I truly am. In process, my relationship with God has grown much deeper and richer. God's grace has given me the resiliency to keep moving towards wholeness.
Appropriate pastoral care has facilitated this process. I pray that your ministry will also make the difference that transforms the aftermath of abuse into the promise of new life.
From author of this site: Some of the article may seem a little extreme, but I do see some value in the article overall!
A Deadly Formula for Violence
Question: Dear Sir: Why are so many religious leaders telling us that to solve the problem of violence we must return to the "old family traditions and values?" They are telling us that we need "male leadership." Do we really need male leadership?
Answer: As a counseling psychologist and minister of the gospel I must say that your concerns are extremely valid. It is my opinion that the recent appeal for us to "return to the traditional family values" and the lifestyles of "good old days" is doing more harm than good. There is a myth that the lack of male leadership in the home and society is the reason for the corruption in society. History will verify that domineering male leadership is one of the reasons for the prevalence of violence in the society and home. Men have been leading for the past millenniums, even in their absence through female supporters of the traditional patriarchal family management. Dr. James Alsdurf, in the book Battered Into Submission, cites author Karen Lindsay who challenges the myth "that if people would only stop worrying about their own personal fulfillment and return to the loving bosom of the patriarchal family, the world would be a happy place." She indicates that the perspective that we need to return to the good old days before the breakdown of the nuclear family is a myth. It ignores the issue of intra-family abuse which has always been a reality. When was the golden age of the happy family? She indicates that in reality there has never been a golden age. History reveals abuses against women and children from the beginning of time.
In the Bahamas many ministers and social activists are telling us to go back to those old traditional family values. What they really mean is:
Return to the patriarchal family system. The husband is the head of the wife, as such he is the supreme ruler. The wife’s responsibility in marriage is to submit to her husband. Then the marriage will be happy. Men are born to be leaders and they must always lead. (Even if they do not have the skills) Women can assist men, but only in a subordinate position. Men are always expected to move up the managerial ladder of success. If a woman climbs the managerial ladder of success, it is only as a result of the permission of male managers. These ideas are being taught and perpetuated by religious leaders and churches. That is what makes it so dangerous and deadly. Why? Because most people trust their religious leaders implicitly and have not been taught to think for themselves. They have accepted the teachings of the church over the millenniums as "thus said the Lord," without searching the scripture for themselves, researching the historical background in which statements were made, and the original meaning of words used. Now that they are "searching" the scriptures, they are reading their own traditional beliefs and practices into the passages, thus creating a deadly formula for violence.
HISTORY SPEAKS You may be thinking that I am only talking out of my head. This is certainly not so. Ancient and modern history is filled with abuses against the weak, women, and children. Sometimes these abuses came in the form of "masked violence" or "passive violence," which unless the eyes are open one would not be aware that he or she is being trapped in a world of false teachings that always lead to abuse and pain. In June 1984, the 14.1 million membership of the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA passed a resolution which excluded women from pastoral leadership because "the man was first in creation and the woman first in the Edenic fall." The resolution clearly states that women are responsible for the fall and that men are superior because they were created first. That was 14 years ago. It is unfortunate that a church body felt compelled to take such a vote. But it was not the end. Fourteen years later, in June of this year (1998), the same body of believers made another historic vote. They voted that "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ." Why would they vote such an action? Is it because men are intimidated by the progressive leadership of women? Could it be it is a effort to keep women "in their place" below men, so that men can control the wealth of this world and monopolize apostolic and political authority?. It is taught that since men are head of families, they receive a higher salary.
The practice of women’s exclusion from community and church leadership was what motivated the women social and political movement which began on this date, July 19, 1848, 150 years ago. On this date 300 persons including 40 men, marched to Seneca Falls, New York, to protest the legal bondage of American women and to demand full equality. They came together to rewrite the US constitution and to sign the Declaration of Sentiments. On that day, they stated their concerns about the treatment of women. One of these statements were: "He allows her in church as well as state, but in a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic Authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church."
Women were of no value. They could not have an education, own property, sue or be sued. In fact, they could not even claim guardianship of their own children if the marriage dissolved. In the early 1800s, a USA common law stated, "Husband and wife are one, and that one is the husband." In our country women had to fight for everything they now own. They only started to vote 36 years ago (1962)(From author of site - 1920 in the USA). This was only made possible after a long struggle by the women’s suffrage movement.
ANCIENT TEACHINGS The ancient Greek philosophers have set the foundation for abuse. Socrates (470-399) taught that "Being born a woman is a divine punishment, since a woman is halfway between a man and an animal." Aristotle (384-322) taught that "The courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying." Aristotle also taught that "A female is a deformed male." During the time of Moses women were of no more than sexual property. Adultery was a violation of property rights since women were of no more than sexual property. (Numbers 5:27, 31). In the Israelite camp a man’s property included his house, garden, and wife. His wife was of no more value to him than his garden. Dr. John Bristow explains that "Although a wife might violate her husband’s marital rights, he could not violate hers, since she did not possess any such rights." Rape was not a crime against the personhood, emotions, or feelings of a woman. Rather it was a crime against property rights (Exodus 22:16-17). The rape victim’s father had to be compensated by the rapist. The rapist was required to marry the rape victim and she could not divorce him. It was not her choice, but that of her father.
CURRENT TEACHINGS Reverend Marvin De Hann in the "Good News Broadcaster" states that "The primary responsibility for a good relationship in marriage lies with the wife. If the wife is submissive to her husband, they’ll have a good relationship." Reverend John MacArthur states "Submission should be the welcome response of Christian woman, to their husband. If a husband doesn’t obey the Word, the wife should submit–submit anyway." Tony Evans, a motivational speaker and preacher of the gospel states, "I believe that feminists of the more aggressive persuasion are frustrated women unable to find the proper male leadership. If a woman were receiving the right kind of love and attention and LEADERSHIP, she would not want to be liberated from that." The current president of the Christian Council, Pastor Simeon Hall, recently stated in a public telecast that man is the original and woman is a duplication. These are examples of the teachings that our Bahamian men have been following. These are also examples of how church leadership keeps women down and do not treat them as equal partners. My solemn question is "What qualifies a man to be the head of his wife when both of them are equally made in the image of God, endowed with the same power of self-determination: to reason, to think and to act?"
THE DEADLY FORMULA The church is truly guilty of a passive violence against women and children. A violence that turns its head in denial, a refusal to admit that abuse exists, and that family abuse is a sin. Several years ago, while working as coordinator of a treatment program for abusive men, I keenly observed that almost thirty percent of the men I worked with indicated that they were active Christians. In my interview with these Christian men, it was shocking to discover that for all of them abuse began or escalated when they became Christians (when they were adults), or when their parents became Christians (when they were children). This brings me to the deadly formula. This deadly formula I have discovered through countless hours of counseling, interviews, and working with families in crisis is: WHEN RIGID TRADITIONAL FAMILY VALUES
ARE COMBINED WITH
RIGID TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS BELIEFS,
THERE IS ALWAYS ABUSE.
The church must then reexamine its teachings, traditions, and practices that support the baser passions and drives for greed and power and control. I call on our ministers to preach in their pulpits that husbands should be servants instead of heads. Preach marital partnership and mutual submission, not wife submission. If we do these, then and only then, will true healing take place in our families. Next week I will continue with an in-depth presentation on the meaning of "headship" in Paul’s writings.