Peniel marriage – another view

keep-calm-and-have-a-happy-marriageKathryn has written a response to my piece of yesterday. I am posting it as a guest post as it raises several issues alongside my concerns. Both of us agree, I think, on the need for maturity and growth in marriage. I would maintain that this is made far harder after someone pushes you towards a partner.
Yes, it is true that there were many “arranged” marriages in the Peniel’s on both sides of the Atlantic, though I suspect it was more common in the Brentwood church. I think though, that while there were certainly unhappy marriages and even (gasp!) a few divorces, many of these unions were and are happy ones. One reason for this is, despite the many times abusive atmosphere within this church, there were also many, many people who sincerely and honestly wanted God and to live for Him as best they could. Because of that, most of us took our vows very seriously. One thing we were all taught is that love is not a feeling, it is a decision. Because of that teaching, and I believe there is truth in that idea, many of us made the decision to love our life partners and to seek God for His help in making our marriages work. I did not have an arranged marriage, (I can’t count the times I was told no man would ever want me and they would never be able to find anyone willing to marry me!) but my husband and I did become engaged 2 weeks after we met and were married not long after. That was 25 years ago and while there have been rough times, I would say our marriage is happy with no more or less troubles than the average couple. I do know several couples that were arranged and I know of only 1 union that ended in divorce and, as the others are friends of mine, I think I can say those marriages are not any happier or unhappier than the average couple. I do have a theory about why this may be so in some cases, though it would hardly apply to every case. There is a bonding that occurs when you go through a trauma with someone. I think, in some instances, the shared traumatic experience of the abuse and mistreatment of Peniel actually strengthened the bond between people. I know that was not always the case, especially when one wanted to leave and the other did not, but I know that has been true in many cases. You reach a place where all you have is each other and no one else. As much as I think they would sometimes to have liked to, the ministry at Peniel could not actually invade the most intimate places of a marriage relationship, it could certainly influence it. I know of marriages that the ministry were successful in destroying, some of them close friends, and that is heartbreaking, but there is something about the bond created in marriage that is strong enough to withstand a lot of attack. Like in many unhappy unions, sometimes it is simply because of the wounds brought into the marriage by one or both that make it unhappy. Of course, most of those wounds can be laid at the feet of the ministry at Peniel.

I was actually in a relationship when I was in Bible College there. He was a wonderful young man with a very bright future ahead of him and we are still friends, but we were told we were not allowed to date because he was not in a place to marry. So we were separated and the ministry ended up fostering such abuse on him that he ended up leaving the church. His is a story that I hope the commission hears. Looking back, we should not have married as we were both carrying baggage from our pasts that would have destroyed our relationship. If we had both remained there we may have eventually married and I would not know the love of my life or have my 5 wonderful boys.

The bigger problem, in my opinion, with all of this relationship control is that young people never learn how to properly be in a mature relationship. I am not encouraging premarital sex but we were never allowed to learn how to interact with members of the opposite sex because there was no casual-type dating. You sort of knew someone, then you decided if you would be interested in marrying them and, if so, you dated for a month or two and then you got married. I did not have many romantic relationships prior to meeting my husband, but I can say that I learned something from each one of them about what it means and how it works. Even with that, I cannot say that I was prepared for marriage, most of us in Peniel weren’t. That is another factor in unhappy marriages.

I guess to sum it all up, Peniel did arrange some marriages, some happy, some not so much. But the cause of most of the unhappiness was not the fact that the unions were arranged so much as no one was allowed to mature relationally in order to become ready for such a commitment. We were all so damaged and wounded with no idea what it meant to be in that type of relationship. It was one of the ways we were all kept controlled, we were not allowed to mature in many ways. We were so dependent on the ministry that many of us didn’t really become adults until we were out from under the church, regardless of our chronological age.

I can’t speak for everyone, these are only my thoughts on my experiences and what I witnessed. It is just one more area Trinity/Peniel managed to screw up. I am thankful that I have been blessed with a wonderful husband whom I love very much and who returns that love. We went through Peniel together and we came out together and it is part of our history. I, for one, am truly glad it is history!

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

4 thoughts on “Peniel marriage – another view

  1. Kathryn, thank God that all this is in your past. There is no language that can adequately describe what it feels like to survive the horror of these “eldership elites”. “ My marks and scars I carry with me?” These days it takes a lot of personal restraint on my part, for me not to take a loud hailer into these places and shout out Bob Dylan’s great quote; “The rules of the road have been lodged, but it’s only peoples games that you got to dodge”
    For me it would be worth getting arrested for. They do a great veggie full English breakfast at our local nick.
    Peace & Love, Chris

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