Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elizabeth's Story: Domestic Violence in a Ministry Home (DV Interview #2)

Dear friends,

Yesterday, I posted Abigail's Story: Responses to Domestic Violence as the first in my series of interviews. Today, please welcome Elizabeth (not her real name). Her story reminds us that domestic violence sometimes happens where we least expect it --  in a home where both the husband and wife are active in Christian ministry. So, without further ado, here is Elizabeth sharing how people responded to her story of domestic violence.

1. What comments or questions did you hear when you shared your story with others (family, close friends, acquaintances, church leaders, social services, etc.)?

In fact, there are very few with whom I have shared my story. As someone working inside the "professional Christian" world for so long, I knew exactly what would be coming my way. I had watched it happen to others. I have friends and colleagues in counseling and helping communities, in mission agencies and denominational headquarters, in educational environments and Christian universities: I knew exactly how I would be treated if I separated from my husband. I knew what would be said, and it was.

Counselors who had said (for decades) "hang in there" asked me in an accusatorial way why I didn't leave earlier. Ministry colleagues -- and most of them wouldn't even speak to me because my husband had so visibly built his victim case with them in the year preceding the second separation (an earlier trial separation had produced no willingness on his part to seek counseling together) -- accused me of:
  • speaking against God's anointed 
  • undermining a man's life work 
  • being unsubmissive and unteachable 
  • opposing God and His word 
  • slandering a brother -- this in regards to the protective injunction
  • making it impossible for my husband to raise funds, so tearing down my house with my own hands 
  • my need to repent and seek public forgiveness from my husband for motivations ranging from jealousy to lust -- I have always modeled complete fidelity to my marriage vows, to doing all I could, even now, to preserve whatever of actual Love remains, and could call a world of witnesses to this. 

I didn't try to answer or defend myself: what, after all, is the point? I have always subscribed to the philosophy that if I live openly in freedom, truth and grace, what is actually true will be seen and known....

Eventually. I accepted that I am powerless over the judgments of others and their desires to manipulate me through punishment or threats. A pre-divorce settlement with his lawyer -- I never hired one -- bound me to silence regarding my husband in any church setting if I wanted to continue to have insurance for my child (who had major medical issues) and myself.

Only someone who has been bound to a person with substantial mental and emotional pathologies for a long time can understand the futility of public engagement. I have been made to suffer substantially by my husband and by some who claim, a little too boldly, that they speak for Jesus. I share the details of this part of my life only with those I can help or encourage in theirs, in privacy with personal openness in that context, but not anywhere else.

The response of social services was to grant me an injunction, with cause. Most family, acquaintances, even homeschooling colleagues, dropped me like a hot potato. I think for most of them, the distancing was on a self-protective, superstitious basis: if someone like myself could not keep the demon of separation/divorce at bay, how could they? I was treated as if I suffered from an infectious disease, for the most part, and that persists today in most contexts. I don't take it personally, because it's not about me. Suffering is not my enemy, but fear of suffering can make me susceptible to all kinds of evil.

2. How did you respond to the comments or questions at the time? How would you change that response now that you know more?

My responses at the time were, in the main, silence, and where that couldn't be avoided, predicated on already knowing how I'd be treated, short and factual with documentation. The years prior to the separation were ones in which I amassed practical knowledge and resources and help, including counseling and seeking medical and psychiatric advice for the complex issues in the spousal relationship and in the home.

It has not been a case of "knowing more and acting differently." I think, given all the same circumstances, I'd choose the same path again. I do wish there had been some support for the path of separation-in-hope that I chose. I see no other way I could have protected or provided for my child's needs any better than I did, without the benefit of being omniscient and omnipotent or having endless financial resources.

Of course, I wish sometimes that I could wave a magic wand and make things perfect in a way they never were, particularly as I watch my child struggle in adulthood with certain issues that I know are secondary to this long relational struggle and the medical/pscyhiatric issues related to it, but that's a false thing to imagine, and engaged in too long could actually limit my capacity to function as a person alive in Christ, to love deeply, and to model for my child a devotion to truth and grace and wisdom.

3. What would you say to another woman facing this struggle?

Trust God to redeem where you do not see His blessing. Base your practical decisions on a Love that seeks Safety, Health and Freedom. Be dove-gentle and serpent-wise and seek out heart, and where necessary, legal counselors who know what that means.


Thank you so much for sharing your story, Elizabeth. There are more women in danger within ministry families than we would care to admit. I hope this will encourage someone to get help and get to safety, even facing the potential shame and the backlash.

Here are the links to my other articles on domestic violence. Each of them has even more links to other web sites. 

In addition, I have created a Domestic Violence Resources page which not only has my article links from above, but also links to other sites, books, Central Florida centers, etc.  You can find this page here: Domestic Violence Resources

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry for your pain and pray God heals your heart soon.