God Loves Women

A blog sharing my love of God, the love He has for women and my frustration that the Church often doesn't realise this


Letter from a Pastor; How not to respond to a woman experiencing abuse.

Posted by God Loves Women on September 5, 2012 at 1:15 PM

The following email was sent by a pastor to a woman who is being abused by her husband.  Her husband has been extremely abusive to her and she is seeking to escape from him.  All names and identifying details have been removed, but the recipient of the email has said she would like people to see the reality of how Church Leaders are unequipped to respond appropriately in cases of abuse.  As you read this email, you may think that some of the pastor's comments or thoughts are correct.  I would suggest that for a couple struggling with relationship difficulties they might be, but where there is abuse, it is not the relationship that needs dealing with, but rather the abuser.

Hi Hannah,


I hope you are doing well, despite going through these difficulties in your marriage.  I thought about responding to your last email; the one you sent after another incident with Saul where you called 911, and where afterwards someone gave you some information about not staying with an abusive partner.


But to be honest, to me it looked like you had made up your mind and that you yourself are looking for a way out of the marriage.  I don't know everything that has gone on between the two of you, but I do feel as though I know both of you fairly well in some degree.  I know Saul well enough to know that he is a believer who loves the Lord, and has changed in many ways from the way he was.  However, I also know that he is a work in progress as we all are.  He tries to look at many Scriptures with his Saul's Way glasses on.  He is certainly not perfect, and he does have his quirks, and inappropriateness, but I also know he is not an aggressive or violent person.  He is stubborn and often pig headed, and doesn't like to lose an argument, but I can say the exact same thing of many people, including yourself.  I do not believe you are afraid of Saul physically, rather frustrated and tired of how he often goes about things.


I also know that you are a believer who loves the Lord, and has had many great experiences in ministry.  However, you too are a work in progress.  You also, like Saul, like to try to look at certain Scriptures, and interpret them to fit what you want.   


You two are very different people--different cultures, different families, different ways of looking at the Bible, different ideas of what is appropriate.  So many different things.  But something brought you two together.  If you don't remember, it was your love and passion for our Lord Jesus.  I think you often forget that and focus instead on all the negative things in Saul--his past, his quirks, his inappropriateness.  (Some of these things he can change, and needs to work on changing, but others, like his past, he can't change, and you simply need to accept, forgive and try to forget.)


Hannah, I believe that you need to be honest, and decide whether or not you are committed to this marriage--"in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, so long as you both shall live".  If you are, then you will try to make things work, rather than always running away (often months at a time) and pointing out the negative, you will need to start working on the strengths and focusing on the positive.  What is going on now cannot help this goal.  Saul is not physical abusive to you.  He can be incredibly frustrating and mentally annoying, but not physically abusive.  And in regards to verbal abuse, in our counselling together, I have witnessed just as much verbal abuse coming from your lips, as I have from his.


If you don't want to be married to Saul anymore, then just be honest and tell him you made a mistake--that you don't want to be with him.  Don't try and find loop holes in the Bible for your mistake or lack of commitment.


The fact is, Jesus said that the only reason Moses made a concession to allow for divorce, in the case of physical adultery, was because the people's hearts were hard.  This is not what God intends.  If you are looking for a way out of your marriage, then your heart is not in the right place--it is hard.


Now, I know that if you decide to honour your marriage commitment, it will not be easy--nothing worth saving is easy.  It will demand a lot of love, grace, patience, work and sacrifice on both parts. Did I mention grace and patience.  But I believe anything is possible with God.  And I know that God's will is that you marriage commitment be honoured, worked on, and be something that brings love and joy to both of you.


The last thing I want to do is get in the middle of this very dysfunctional marriage again.  But if I can help the both of you, I would consider it an honour, especially if it will bring peace, joy and love to both your lives.  I hope you know that the tone of this letter is one of love and wanting to help a sister and brother in the Lord.


Blessings and prayers,


Pastor Phillip

(P.S.  I don't know whether or not you know, but Saul is going in for his major knee surgery on September 13th.  I thought you would want to know so you could be praying for him and his recovery.  Please feel free to reply or call me anytime.

What would you say to this pastor to challenge him?

What words of encouragement do you have for the woman seeking safety?

How do we change Church culture so emails like this no longer get sent?

Categories: Violence against Women, Women and the Church, The Church

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Reply blindfishideas
4:02 AM on September 6, 2012 
It is hard to talk about any situation when you have only one bit. But this bit has enough worrying sentences it is worth responding.

To the pastor.
if a man is being abusive in a relationship, he has already broken the vows and your quote of "sickness and health" verges on emotional manipulation. You appear to be giving the guy a free pass on his "interpretations" of scripture. If you believe he is misusing the Bible challenge him on it, your the pastor. I guess you wish that everyone would be happy and you want to help push these two people back together. For their benefit? Or for yours? Do you need then to get together again to validate your world view.
kind regards

To the women
Please believe me that not all Christian men are like your pastor. having faith does not blind everyone to the reality of abuse. We existand we are trying to change things for the b better.
God bless

To change this in the churches if the world we need to radically rethink the way we train up church leaders. They need to learn the truths of abuse in relationships and recognize that safety is the first concern. Never play down or normalise abusive behaviour. Bad Bible interpretation is never an excuse. I would say that we need a joint effort by men and women together to come to their churches leadership and make clear the need for more awareness and maybe even written church principles to guide future responses to incidents. This principles should be shorten before an incident becomes noticed.
Reply James Prescott
4:18 AM on September 6, 2012 
There are hardly any words.
Reply Barbara Roberts
10:03 PM on September 7, 2012 
Thanks for posting this Natalie! It's a classic.
I re-blogged it at A Cry for Justice
Reply Anon
12:42 AM on September 8, 2012 
1) Challenging the pastor will be difficult. I don't think any leader likes to be challenged, much more so when they think they know about marriage difficulties. The paradigms are so entrenched, I am not sure that one challenge will alter his stance. But I suppose if he encounters many challenges at many different levels, things may change.
2) To the woman seeking safety, I would re-assure her from Scriptures - and there are many - that she is NOT out of God's will for leaving her husband.
3) We CAN change culture, and we need to attack it on many fronts. We need to reach the victims - those who recognize the abuse and those who don't, the bystanders and the pastors. Reaching the perpetrators will be a different challenge as research shows that ministering to them gives them more weapons of abuse. It will take much wisdom and caution to distinguish those who are wolves who have no willingness to change and those who are severely damaged by their past and can/want to change. Only experienced/qualified people or intervention programs will be able to do it without causing more hurt to the victim's family.
Reply Michele
9:32 AM on September 10, 2012 
I've had similar responses when I have sought help from pastors, though not quite as harsh as this. If I can give any advice to a woman, it is never to go to a male pastor or priest when one is experiencing serious life issues such as this.
Reply redjules
6:00 AM on December 10, 2012 
wow just seen this. Clearly this is only half of the information but even so it's hard to believe this was written by a Pastor. I have just been selected for ordination training but to get to that you have to go to a weekend away where they look at various aspects of you and your abilities. One is the exercises is a pastoral letter in which you are given a situation to respond to. mine was not disimilar to the one above. I thought I had been pretty fair and loving but even then I was still told the tone of my letter was too judgemental. I dread to think what they would say about this one!
Also seems crazy that this was sent in an email, seems totally inappropriate a way to respond...