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Meet Pearl

A Survivor’s Journey from Patriarchy & Abuse to Freedom in Christ

Pearl was introduced to a very conservative homeschooling community in her late teens, where courtship and preparing for their highest calling; as a wife and mother were profoundly encouraged. She married under the courtship system. The abuse began very quickly after marriage; it was more subtle the first month. Pearl’s husband controlled all evening activities, who her friends were, and evening phone calls were forbidden so that she was available to meet his needs. She thought this was what marriage was to look like and followed blindly. Then, for the first time after a month of marriage, Pearl stood up for herself. When she kindly said no to a request, he called her a vile name and threatened to spank her because “she was a defiant and rebellious wife.” As time went on, the threats continued – she was so confused, and something felt so wrong in her marriage!

According to her husband and his reading of submission verses to her – everything was her fault. She began to read books on submission, one of them being, Created to Be His Helpmeet. It taught her that if she could do all the right things, adore/reverence, and make her husband’s life easy, the abuse would stop. She decided to follow the book’s advice, but the more submission she gave him, the more he demanded, and the more he exerted control. Nothing was working. Once, she adjusted the AC by two degrees to save money. When he noticed she had touched the AC, he came in screaming and yelling at her loudly about being an unsubmissive wife. He wouldn’t stop yelling, so she ran into a room and closed the door, but he busted open the door and accused her again of being a rebellious wife for locking the door. “How dare you be so unsubmissive?” he would exclaim. The yelling, name-calling, and verbal berating continued. Pearl knew the drill at
this point— this wasn’t the first time it had happened. He wanted to watch her break. He knew when she would break, and then he would stop – only after there was complete fear in her eyes, she was weeping uncontrollably and rendering submission to whatever he wanted.

Pearl tried bringing marriage counselors and mentors in to help with their marriage issues, stating, “My husband has a little anger problem but wants help.” Her husband would eventually refuse help from these mentors, saying he already knew how to be a good husband. Pearl continued to seek counsel. During her time in counseling, she began to recognize that she was in an abusive marriage. However, she didn’t believe divorce was an option and decided to fight for her marriage. They met with a marriage counselor, who mapped out a complete plan to heal their marriage and family. The program required sacrifice and commitment in her husband’s part; but he got upset and refused.

He also threatened to cut off the remaining social connections and any additional provision if she continued to attend counseling or tried to hold him accountable to the plan. She struggled with believing that maybe this was normal in a marriage, so after a threat, she asked a mentor and elder’s wife in her church if it was normal for a husband to threaten his wife physically when she didn’t comply to his wishes. The elder’s wife was appalled and took it to the church elders, who decided they would occasionally contact the husband to make sure things were okay; in their marriage. On the occasions when the elder checked in on Pearl’s husband, the elder was assured he was doing great.

A domestic violence advocate and friend learned of the things going on in Pearl’s marriage, and she informed Pearl that domestic violence is about power and control. “It is the internal belief that they have the right to maintain power and dominance over you out of entitlement, refusing accountability for themselves.” The advocate explained that physical violence happens when a man feels their threats and control tactics no longer work and told Pearl she was concerned physical abuse was going to happen soon, based on statistics. Then the first incident of physical harm happened when she asked him to please stop correcting her running form when they were running together (he was getting really angry). It was subtle but scary, and her husband always justified himself.

Pearl and her husband decided to change churches. This time she reached out to an elder in the church, and they set up a time to meet. The elder learned that Pearl wanted to save her marriage but wanted accountability and help for her husband. He decided to put them in marriage counseling at the church. Pearl’s husband dodged going at first,
but the church insisted. Then another physical assault happened and this time, it left a bruise. Pearl’s husband told the church, “She is overreacting – she bruises easily and gets bruises all over her body when she runs, so why does she get upset if I give her a little bruise?”  There was no repentance or remorse, but the church insisted on continuing the marriage counseling.

In the next two months, physical assaults continued when Pearl didn’t do as she was told, but her husband had an excuse and justification for every incident. By this point, her church elders were highly concerned and at a loss about what to do. One of her former counselors reached out to the church and recommended a domestic violence advocate from Called to Peace Ministries (CTPM). CTPM mentored the church elder, and eventually the elders began to see that the problem was more serious than a bad marriage. Soon after, they helped Pearl separate from her husband and kept her safe. The church became educated about domestic violence and what it looks like. The CTPM advocate met with them and answered their many questions as they continued to work with Pearl’s husband. They now have a domestic violence protocol and policy to protect other members of the church. Pearl found healing and redemption through counseling, CTPM support groups, and the support of a like-minded community. Before, she questioned her worth, but now she realizes that Jesus never asked her to submit to abuse and that he values this Pearl far more than any earthly treasure or institution.

Raising our Voices Against Abuse

Twenty two years ago domestic violence drove my children and me out of our home. We got out with only the clothes on our backs and bounced from one friend’s house to another, as my husband went on the warpath threatening everyone who tried to help. When I called the police, they reluctantly went over to the house and “tried to calm him down,” but told me there was nothing they could do to stop him from destroying the antiques and other precious items I had inherited from my grandmother. They explained that once I married, my property became his, and he could do whatever he wanted with it.

Since he could not find us, my husband’s rage increased. He began chopping up and burning all the wooden antique furniture in the house. He also bagged up all my personal belongings and carried them to the town dump, making sure to ruin my most expensive clothes by pouring ink all over them. Several hours each day he was on the phone relaying threats against me to friends and family members. He also went to great lengths to convince them I was to blame for everything that was happening. After his own father called to tell me he was afraid for my life, I called the police again. I believed if he found us, I would be killed. The police asked me if he owned weapons, and when I told them he did, they became reluctant to respond and basically told me there was nothing they could do about the threats. In the weeks that followed, I called them several times. Once or twice they went over to try to calm him down. One of those times he told them I was going to “end up in a body bag,” but apparently that was not enough to warrant an arrest.

A friend of mine was married to a deputy, so I called and asked him for advice. He suggested I go take out a warrant against him, and get a protective order. I did it the very same day, and laid low praying that they would get him before he got us. After two days, when I still hadn’t heard anything, I called to find out what happened. They told me he had been served, but they weren’t sure he’d seen it yet. While I was actually naive enough to think they might put him in jail, I soon found that serving him only meant that a pink piece of paper was taped the the door of his house ordering him to court in 30 days . When he got home from a long shift as a staff physician, that piece of paper merely served to enrage him more. The threats through friends and family intensified.

I reached out to my pastor, and he went by to see my husband. Although he had only been a nominal member of the church, while I served faithfully, my pastor seemed to believe my husband’s story over mine. He seemed to think that I had done something to set him off, because nobody would go that crazy without reason. I tried to explain that I’d spent our entire marriage trying to avoid setting him off, but I never knew what might do it. One time, he tore the house up because he was mad at the cat. Another time, he became furious and started breaking things, because our daughter used his hairbrush and forgot to put it back. My solution to that was to go out and buy 17 brushes so that would never happen again. I always tried to smooth the way for him, but nothing was ever enough. We never knew what might set him off. The most stressful time of the day was when he walked in the door from work. Would he be in a good mood or a bad mood? If it was good, nothing would bother him, but if it was bad everything would anger him and all we could do was try to avoid him.

I explained all of this to my pastor, and he suggested we come in for a counseling session. As afraid as I was, I wanted our marriage to work so I went. I arrived 20 minutes early to avoid meeting my husband in the parking lot. When he arrived, he seemed calm and cool. We sat and listened as our pastor told us how he thought we could repair our marriage, but inside I knew none of it would work. In our 13 years of marriage, we had seen at least a dozen counselors or pastors, and nothing anyone had suggested had worked. Somehow they all put the burden for his behavior on me. I was told to boost his self-esteem, to keep a cleaner house, to pray more and ask God to show me my contribution to the problem. Most of the time, I was way ahead of the counselors and already doing what they prescribed. We had learned to tip toe around my husband quite well, except on those rare occasions when something unexpected came up. It didn’t seem anything we did could help us in those situations.

Even though he had been prone to fits of rage of the years, he had only been physically abusive towards me about 4 or 5 times in the entire length of our marriage, so I didn’t really consider myself abused. I just thought he lost control because of his troubled upbringing and long hours at work. I never thought he was intentionally trying to hurt me, so I made every effort to bring healing to our marriage. For a year and a half after that initial separation I reached out to anyone I thought might be able to help. After all, I didn’t believe in divorce! Yet, nobody had the answers I longed to find. Every earthly resource failed us–  from the legal system to law enforcement, from counselors to the church. The violence simply became more frequent and more deadly.

One day my twelve-year-old daughter asked me why I didn’t just leave and give up the idea of reconciliation. My response was that God hates divorce. Immediately she said, “God hates divorce, but he’s going to hate it a lot more when my mom is dead.” Even after hearing that, I refused to give up. It took nearly losing my life to decide I needed to leave, and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done, because everything in me wanted to save that marriage. Even after I left, I waited on God hoping he would change my husband’s heart. Not until he remarried five years later did I feel released from that marriage.

During that five year separation I struggled and grieved over the loss of the marriage. I was also overwhelmed with guilt and condemnation because I couldn’t make it work. Still, I knew I had no other choice. Even though I couldn’t find the right help, I felt I had failed somehow. One day as I was reading 1 Corinthians 7 regarding separation from an unbeliever, God gave me peace about leaving. Since my husband claimed to be a Believer, and since he kept saying he wanted to stay in the marriage, I didn’t think the passage applied to us. However, that day I saw that the reason Paul released believing spouses from such marriages was that “God has called us to peace” (7:15). That passage leapt off the page into my heart as I realized I had not had peace in the entire 23 years I had been with my husband (8 years of dating and 15 of marriage). Suddenly I saw God’s kind intention towards me. He wasn’t condemning me for getting out, I was condemning myself and many in the church did too.

In the years since I left my marriage I have reached back to help others in similar situations, and have seen plenty of victims face condemnation from the very people they approached for help. Like me, most have been made to feel responsible for their abusers’ actions. I’ve seen them struggle with the same unbelievable lack of resources I faced. It wasn’t that people didn’t try to help– they didn’t know how!  People perish for a lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6), and when helpers don’t understand the dynamics of abuse, they very often make things worse. They minimize or deny the problem and fail to believe victims who finally get up the courage to come forward. They elevate marriages over lives, and fail to recognize the deadly nature of domestic violence.

Recently a woman I know fled to the local domestic violence shelter for help. When they did a lethality index, it indicated she has a very high chance of becoming a victim of domestic homicide. Yet, a month later, her pastor was encouraging her to come in for couples counseling. I wish I could say it’s an exception to see domestic violence mishandled by the church, but sadly my experience with hundreds of women has shown me it is the rule. Every time I hear a story like this, I become more determined to make a difference.

The bottom line is that abusers continue to abuse, because we close our eyes to it. We try to pretend it’s not all that common– even though the American Medical Association says one in three American women will experience it– even though statistics are no better in the church– and even though it “is widely accepted by abuse experts (and validated by numerous studies) that evangelical men who sporadically attend church are more likely than men of any other religious group (and more likely than secular men) to assault their wives.”

Not only do we ignore the problem, we actually make it easier for abusers when none of the systems in place are able to effectively protect victims, including the church. When I look at scripture, I see God’s heart for the oppressed and his mandate for us to “loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and.. break every yoke” (Is. 58:6).  That is our calling as his people, and we need many voices if we are ever to overcome this awful plight.