In the account of Sally’s contact with the Pastor and his wife over the issue of her husband’s verbal abuse, http://survivingchurch.org/2015/02/14/sallys-story-part-3/ I recounted how ineptly the two dealt with her on a pastoral level. Two principles guided everything they had to offer. The first was the likelihood that there was some demonic influence at work in the situation of her marriage. This was suggested partly by the fact that Sally was of Latino appearance, opening her, no doubt, to demons that specialised in people of a non-white heritage. The second principle was the assumption that every problem in a Christian partnership can be solved if the woman simply submits to the man. That is her God-given role.
The recording of Sally’s treatment on this blog has helped her to have a clearer understanding of the poor pastoral practice and even weaker grasp of theology shown to her by the Pastor and his wife. I had hoped that she would not be going to see them again. In this I was wrong. Her husband, Tod, still continued at their church and so when things turned unpleasant again in their relationship, he looked to the pastors for immediate support.
I am going to continue Sally’s story using her words as far as possible. What I find striking is the way that this blog has helped give her a new confidence to stick up for herself. The reader will also find instructive, once again, the appalling level of pastoral skill shown by Pastor John and his wife Cat towards Sally. If this is the level of loving care that is being handed out by any professional pastor, then we have a lot to be concerned about.
Sally speaks: ‘In the earlier email that I sent I stated that my husband had not been physically abusive toward me. This all changed the Friday after I sent the email. We had a fight and my husband raised his hand to me in front of my two small children.
I left the house with my kids and went for a drive to an area where I grew up, some 60 minutes drive from my home, a place I had always loved. I had had a wonderful childhood in a beautiful area and my instinct was to go there. I wanted to be able to think while driving, ‘what do I do now? I don’t want to let my parents know for fear of intervention and I can’t trust the church. I came home put my children to bed and saw that I had many missed calls from my mother and sister. I called them and would you believe that, in God’s goodness, (he knew my heart was NOT to tell) my husband had called my mother to confess what he had done. Everything. My mother immediately was able to tell him that what he had done was inexcusable and that “Sally is not alone”. He said he knew that he had failed but he was sorry and would seek help from HIS pastor.
I realise that, had he not told my mother, I would never have done so. But, because he told my mother, it was as though God intervened and the event came out into the open. Tod effectively shot himself in the foot because he could not subsequently deny this confession. Nevertheless when I got back home there was no welcome. I was hoping that at least he would be sorry and express some remorse. But in fact he was as cold as ice and I went to sleep in tears.
What was to happen now? My father and mother both came over to see me the next day and I told them both in detail what had happened. My mother then spoke to Tod but his story had now changed and this time he started to talk about how I had provoked him. He also told my mother that he spent most of the morning talking to Pastor John. She asked him: ‘Did you tell him what you had done?’ He had admitted to Pastor John what he had done and my mother immediately commented on the fact that it was strange that a caring Pastor seemed to show no interest in what Sally was going through after the assault.
A few months have gone by with a continuation of the fighting but without the physical violence. Sally feels the unhappiness of the situation in the pit of her stomach. She wants to forgive her husband but also to hear some expression of remorse on his part. Although she stopped attending church after the disastrous events recorded Sally’s story part 3, she still felt that someone from the church could easily have checked up on her to see how she was. Eventually she decided to contact the pastors to ask for a meeting. She also wanted to hear from them how their previous advice was thought to be in any way helpful to the task of dealing with an abusive husband.
Before going back to the scene of her former pastoral abuse, Sally decided to ask for the Spirit to lead the meeting. Once she arrived she began by telling the Pastor’s wife, Cat, how hurt she was at being called a liar at the previous meeting.
Once again in Sally’s words: ‘She started again talking about the SPIRIT of Rebellion I have. Then something happened. I was energized and stopped her mid sentence and said “excuse me, what evidence do you have about what you are saying? Where is your proof? What in my behaviour reveals this ‘spirit’ to you??’
She was shocked and she said “ah no, nothing I see, but it is there?” I replied, “What is there, be specific?” Her response came back, ‘Ah I don’t see it in your behaviour but I know it’s there, from your family. I responded “what behaviour” …. again she said nothing she could see.
Pastor John joined us and his wife reported to him: ‘ I was just telling Sally that I think she has a rebellious spirit that sets her husband off.’ Pastor John then said “Cat no, that is wrong, it is not a spirit at work – she has character issues.
Ok, I think, I am saved from one thing, the Spirit of Rebellion, and Cat has been shut down. Now I have to tackle round two and deal with my character issues! So Pastor John launched off into his understanding of how I was going wrong. I was setting my husband off and if his wife did what I did, he would lose his mind as well! He then described to me how Tod, my husband, had visited him crying his eyes out. He had put up with my behaviour and he couldn’t control it and had finally lost it. He declared that I was sending him annoying texts, waking him at night to talk to him when he is tired and following him around the house when I need an issue resolved. Also Tod declared that when he gets home from work, I attack him with issues that I want him to deal with then and there.
Pastor John, I am so sorry, this is a lie! But he stood very firmly in believing my husband, that in some way I push all the buttons in him, making him explode and then get upset when he snaps. What happened is that Tod went to Pastor John to throw all the blame on me for his act of violence and he was believed. The pastor was now getting angry at my denial. Someone is lying, he said. So I replied ‘let us pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you who is lying. ‘ He then changed tack. ‘I’m not here to talk about Tod; it is you who has major issues that need dealing with.’ Feeling the same energy that I had felt in responding to his wife earlier, I responded ‘What issues?’ His reply shocked me. ‘You are not ready to hear it.’ ‘Yes I am’, I replied. ‘It will hurt you’ but I immediately replied ‘Yes I am ready.’ Then he repeated ‘you are not ready, I won’t’. So I said: ‘If you see and are sure and the Spirit is showing you, don’t you have to tell me? But he then responded. ‘The Spirit is not showing me’.
At this point the Pastor was extremely angry at being challenged and having his insight questioned. Then he tried to re-establish control by yelling at me: ‘You two need to separate. There is no hope. In my 35 years, I’ve only two other couples like you and both ended in divorce. Pack up your stuff and get out of there. I told him that is what my husband had said too, but no I won’t. I love my husband and I don’t trust you or him but I trust God and he is in this.
After I went off to check up on my small children, I came back and Pastor John was very quiet and sweet again. He claimed not to be favouring my husband even though he had clearly chosen not believe my version of events.’
A final comment from Sally: ‘ I left feeling like I had been in 10 rounds with Mike Tyson and full of strength. Never had I stood up to authority this way. As it stands there is not one single accusation against me they were both given opportunity to state their ‘defense’ and both cracked. There was nothing!!
God is good.
The situation is not resolved and indeed remains critical. But we do see in this story an example of an individual reclaiming their power which two church leaders were trying to wrest from her. Perhaps our blog can claim a little of the credit for helping Sally to find her voice and stick up for honesty, truth and courage.