What should a pastor do when a woman comes to them and confides that they are being abused?
It's a shame that this even has to be said. It's deplorable. But, it's necessary.
So many abused women have been told by pastors to submit to their abuser. Leaders will have to answer for this not only absurd but also possibly deadly counsel.
I am so grateful that Karen* has pastors who believe her. That's what people need when they are abused -- support from those who have been placed in their lives to protect them. Shall a shepherd neglect an abused sheep? It's unconscionable to me that we would even have to spell this out.
Sometimes pastors say they don't want to get involved. Doing so can be messy.
They say it's a family matter, not really a church one, and they would rather not interfere.
Or because the woman being abused has faults (hello! who doesn't?!) they think maybe the abuse isn't such a terrible thing, or that they asked for it.
Amazingly I've heard a pastor or two say that abuse might have been deserved in some cases.
Some pastors believe a problem is solved because the man comes to the altar the service after a woman discloses the abuse. They fail to realize that in the majority of cases this is all a part of the abuser's manipulative act.
I've had experience with quite a number of abuse cases and one that really stands out in my mind is the Fields* family. We pastored Jay and Denise Fields and their daughter, Tiffany, at our church in Maryland. Denise was a pretty lady in her early thirties with long dark hair, and just as sweet as the day is long. Tiffany was five years old and a tiny version of her momma. And then there was Jay.
Jay Fields was a good looking man who was always dressed like he stepped out of GQ. He came to church each week smelling like Polo and wore shiny shoes and carried a leather bible that had his name engraved on it. He was usually at Sunday School before morning worship and could be found sipping a cup of coffee beforehand, milling around and talking to people. He was very friendly and outgoing and would unashamedly lift his hands to worship the Lord, and most of the time went to the altar after a message. Everyone thought Jay Fields was a great guy. Unfortunately, they had no idea he was also a monster.
One night, Denise called me, profusely crying. She confessed to me that Jay put a gun to her head earlier and said he was going to kill her if she ever told anyone what was really going on in their home. Several moments before she called me, they had gotten into an argument. He had thrown a full bottle of Tylenol at her head as hard as he could and hit her, causing a knot and a bruise on her head. He had no idea she had dialed my number on the cordless phone and was hiding in the other room. I could hear him in the background, screaming obscenities at her, threatening to hurt her.
Denise confided to me it had been going on a while, since shortly after they married. She tried to keep things together for Tiffany's sake, and she always held out hope for Jay. She wanted their marriage to work out and she agonized about leaving.
I asked her what she wanted to do. Through sobs she told me she was done. I said, "are you ready to leave? Have you purposed in your heart that this is it?" She said, "Yes. Tonight with the gun was the last straw." I said, "okay, we'll get you out of there." And with that we quickly made plans to get she and Tiffany in the middle of the night while Jay slept. Perhaps the scariest thing Denise ever did was to wrap Tiffany in the blanket that covered her, as her hands shook from fear, dashing out to the waiting car in front of the house, to speed off to a shelter.
They left with nothing but the clothes on their backs and Tiffany's blanket.
They settled in at a shelter for abused women about 30 miles away. They never went back to Jay. The night after they left him, he awoke and was angry as a hornet. At first he played the part of the victim and tried to get people in the church to think Denise was the crazy one. He painted a portrait to anyone who would listen of her as an unsubmissive wife with emotional problems. He put on a religious show, approaching people at church and telling them in a very calm and sincere voice that they needed to be concerned where the church was headed. His spiel went something like this:
"You know, we really need to pray for our church and our pastors. Many folks don't realize this but our pastors are very liberal people. They actually told my wife to leave me. What kind of pastors encourage their people to get divorced? I never would have believed that something like this could happen to me. My wife has issues and ran off, without even try to work things out! Who leaves their marriage and doesn't even try to improve it? What's wrong with women today? This sounds like something off of Oprah, and I don't know about you but I want to follow a man or woman of God, not Oprah...what in the world is going on in this church? We really need to be concerned because I'm not sure God will bless a church where the pastors have just gone in the ways of the world..."Some people did listen to Jay, and began to question us. They had no idea about the abuse and only knew what they saw of Jay at church where he looked like the perfect "Promise Keeper." My husband and I kept things confidential.As for Jay, he bad mouthed us to anyone who would listen. It didn't work. After that, he revealed his true colors to everyone.
We received a call from Jay a few weeks later. He threatened us and said he would get even with us for helping his wife leave. He hadn't been to church since the day Denise left but he told us he was staging a comeback. Referring to me he said "I'm going to come to church and blow your head off while you're leading worship on the platform."
I said, "Go ahead Jay, make my day!" Larry was NOT happy with me. Not at all. [sigh] He privately rebuked me, which I deserved. He said, "Deanna, that man is totally crazy but you don't have to taunt him..." Honestly, it just slipped out. I was just sooooo over Jay Fields and his act.
My husband asked one of our board members who was also a police officer to make sure he packed heat the next few weeks. (No, I'm not kidding!) He said, "Just make sure you drop Jay before he drops my wife." The board member said, "You got it, Pastor, no problem!"
Jay never showed up.
He never repented either, that I know of.
Jay Fields is dead now. No, the board member didn't kill him. I didn't either. ;)
We got word that he died from AIDS years later. Denise found out he had been sleeping around, even visiting prostitutes in Baltimore. People died from AIDS quicker back then because there weren't as many life prolonging drugs like there are now. Thankfully Denise was tested and did not have AIDS.
Denise and Tiffany moved to New York where they were originally from, to be near family and start their new life. They are members of a church there where Denise sings in the choir. She and Tiffany are so happy now, and they do not live in fear.
The point of this post is directed to leaders, to take time to get involved even when it's messy or dangerous. Real ministry gets messy. Some pastors will preach all day long about David and Goliath but then shrink back from a man like Jay Fields. What's up with that?
I know personally of one situation where a pastor did not make the right decision in dealing with a man in the church because of the size of his tithe. He felt the church simply couldn't do without it and he knew confronting him would cause him to leave. Instead of doing what was wise, he kept trying to pacify the situation and offer gentle words of counsel here and there rather than risk offending him. His efforts were more focused on keeping a man and his tithe in the church rather than help a woman. Don't get me wrong, I understand church finances. Oh boy, do I ever understand them. That's another post for another day. [sigh] I've been affected, deeply affected, even in times where I've made the right decision. All I have to say to this, my fellow friends who are pastoring, is...what did we go into the ministry for? Keep your focus on people. Sometimes it's going to cost us dearly to help people. Do what is right and even though you might be affected for a while in ways you didn't want or expect, you will be able to lay your head on the pillow at night knowing you did the right thing!
For all of you reading who care to get involved in the lives of hurting people, there will be plenty of great wisdom coming your way this week. Starting tomorrow, there will be guests posts by blogger friends of mine who are certified life coaches, licensed Christian counselors, pastors and pastors' wives. They will be sharing about ministering to those who are experiencing physical, verbal, emotional and spiritual abuse. All of our guest bloggers this week are available to chat with you in the comment section here on the blog or on my facebook page where the blog is also published.
Listen, comment, and get involved. People's lives depend on it.
*All names have been changed