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Has Your Church Harmed You?

by | Abuse Literacy

Has Your Church Harmed You?

Many women seek guidance from spiritual leaders, but instead of being counseled to seek safety and deliverance from abuse, are counseled to work on the marriage.

Clergy are rarely trained to spot abuse – and this is a serious problem that endangers victims all over the world. Rachel is back on the BTR podcast sharing her experience. Listen to the BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.

When Clergy Mislabels Abuse as a “Marriage Problem”

“When there is abuse and you go in for marital counseling or you go to your church or your elder or whoever you’re asking for help, they just always assume that you’re having marriage problems.”

Rachel, Member of the BTR.ORG Community

Too often, clergy are quick to label abuse as a “marriage problem”. Because they aren’t trained to identify abuse, they will misdiagnose abuse as two-party, relational issues, like:

  • Communication problems
  • Intimacy-related problems
  • Selfishness
  • Not enough time spent dating and enjoying activities together
  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Sexual withholding from the victim (this is spiritual abuse)

When clergy misdiagnose abuse, they are blaming the victim and enabling the abuser.

Clergy Can Ask Better Questions to Help Victims Seek Safety

When victims confide in clergy, there are many ways that clergy can support them and help them to identify abuse and take steps to get to safety. One of those ways is by asking questions that empower victims to identify the abuse themselves.

Some of those questions may include:

  • Do you feel emotionally safe?
  • Do your children feel emotionally safe?
  • Do you feel like you owe your husband sex?
  • Do you like being at home when your husband is home?
  • Do you feel like you can say no to sex without punishment (including sulking)?

Clergy Should Prioritize Safety

Too often, clergy prioritizes the marital relationship over women’s safety to the point that they counsel victims to stay with their abusers.

In so many cases, women start on their journey to separate themselves from abuse and then clergy or family or something stops them. And then they might try again a little bit later and I’ve heard so many women lately tell me, yeah, God told me to get out seven years ago. And it was very clear. But then when I was trying to do it, my clergy told me not to.

Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG

Churches can choose to abandon the false and dangerous belief that the marital relationship supersedes the safety of the individual and encourage victims to choose their own safety above the abusive relationship.

BTR.ORG is Here For You

At BTR, we know how devastating it is to feel unsupported or even abused by clergy. You are safe here. Join our Group Sessions today and find the community that you deserve on your journey to healing.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to BTR. This is Anne.
I have Rachel back on today’s episode, I introduced her last week and we had the beginning of her conversation last week. So if you didn’t listen to that, go listen to that first and then join us here today. We are gonna jump in talking about how therapists and clergy and other people think that it’s a couple issue or maybe a communication issue. And they don’t realize that what they’re seeing is abuse. I wanna hold a little bit of grace for ourselves for not knowing it was abuse for clergy. Yes. They didn’t know it. Even therapists. It’s also okay to be angry that we were screaming and yelling for help and nobody could help us.

Rachel (04:02):
And I think that when there is an issue and you go in for marital counseling or you go to your church or your elder or whoever you’re asking for help, they just always assume that you’re having marriage problems. And I, I don’t know what all these questions, the right questions are, but I know that the church is asking the wrong questions and I have experienced this and I am educating them slowly in my own church. And I have had a close personal friend of mine go through her own thing recently. And what I found myself in the midst of, and I did not plan to, was they were looking to me and they were asking, Rachel, tell us what we need to do. Tell us what questions we need to ask.

“Do You Feel Emotionally Safe?”


And I was thrilled and devastated all at the same time, because my thought was, why didn’t you get this a couple years ago or sooner when I needed you to? Another thing is that they allowed my ex to keep serving in the church even with his issues. Because for me, it was a huge issue that he was serving in a smaller capacity, but it was still a big deal. They needed to ask the right questions. I think they first need to ask if you feel safe at home, or if your kids feel safe at home.

Anne (05:46):
I think they need to ask, do you feel emotionally safe? Because so many women, when they ask that question, do you feel safe? Most women will say, yeah, I don’t think you would ever hit me and they don’t understand that there is emotional safety. Which, if you said, do you feel emotionally safe? They would be like, well, actually, no. You know, do you feel psychologically safe? Yeah. So asking that if they feel emotionally safe, I think is important. Okay. Keep going.

Rachel (06:14):
I’ll uh, I’ll expand on that. I think they need to know if they feel spiritually safe too, because understanding things now that I didn’t as a child, is that my poor mom, she is not spiritually safe. And I don’t know if she’ll ever get to leave because it comes from her side and his side.

Anne (06:35):
When you say, because it comes from her side, do you mean her family? Okay. That and do you also mean that like she has been spiritually abused to the point where she thinks that she needs to sacrifice her safety in order to be a godly person?

God Doesn’t Want Women To Be Abused

Rachel (06:50):
All of the above, which is really sad and that God would be upset with her, that she wouldn’t be in God’s will because I, I heard my mom say over multiple times in my life, regardless of what my dad did, that she was strong and she made her commitment under God, to God, in her marriage, regardless what my dad chooses to do or be. And so for her that would be breaking a vow to, and that the bondage that goes with that just devastates me. I kept my vow and God set me free from the abuse of it. So I will never feel bad for being divorced, not one time. And I think there’s a lot of women that need to hear that.

Anne (07:35):
People have been listening to the podcast for a long time know that when I started podcasting in 2016, I sounded much different than I sound today. I’m much stronger. I’m happier, you know, a bunch of things I do wanna remind everyone that I also did feel that way. At one time, there was a time where I was like, I am not breaking my vow, the covenants that I made, my marriage vows, period. And so I will never, ever file for divorce. I started podcasting after he filed, but I just sat and waited and waited and waited with a no contact order from the court, not communicating with him for nine months until he filed. If I knew then what I know now I would’ve filed for sure. Like now I’m really confident about it. But back then, I just didn’t understand what was happening.

God Is Commanding Women To Separate Themselves From Abuse


I did not wanna disappoint God. Now I feel the opposite where I feel like in so many cases, God is actually commanding women to separate themselves from evil and wickedness and they feel it and they, they hear it and they are afraid or they, they make a decision, okay, I’m going to do this. And they start on their journey and then clergy or family or something stops them. And then they might try again a little bit later and I’ve heard so many women lately tell me, yeah, God told me to get out seven years ago. And it was very clear. But then when I was trying to do it, my clergy told me not to. I keep hearing that same story of, there was a point where I knew that that’s what I needed to do. And I felt like God was telling me to do that. But I, I was unable to at that time for some reason,

Rachel (09:19):
There was a particular time for me that I was going back and forth. And in the midst of the first restraining order, I was gonna go for a legal separation. He talked me out of that. He did not want there to be legal separation. Well, I realized later he’s very money oriented and he knew that I would get money out of him for the children, myself, et cetera. So he did not want to lose money. That was what it was about for him. What was really funny later was during the second restraining order, he beat me to filing for divorce. He was mad that I had gotten the upper hand in his mind. I’m sure. And he was going to make me pay. So in his mind he went and filed for divorce.

“I Was Pretty Scared of Him At This Point”


I believe he was not working at the time. So he got to file for free, which is just amazing. And he put there that he didn’t wanna pay anything except the minimal amount for the kids. He didn’t want them, he didn’t want anything. He just wanted out. And he thought that would devastate me. And what he didn’t know is what God had been doing in my heart because in the midst of all this time that I, I should have called the police on him for what he was doing to me, what he was doing to my son. I was pretty scared of him at this point. And I remember driving home sometimes and thinking I did not wanna go home. And I would take the kids everywhere with me. I possibly could be there when my son was getting home from school at different ones here and there trying to juggle four kids.

“There Was Such a Freedom In Him Leaving”


And then in the midst of all this crazy enough, we had gotten a puppy of all things. So then the puppy was in the mix and I was like, I need some guidance. And he said, he said, Rachel, I need you to wait till June. And so for all the times that like I’m scared, you know, that the police had come and, you know, I’ve apologized to my children for not calling the police myself and different things. And at the end of June, after he had, he had left two weeks before of his own volition packed his car and literally left two days before father’s day and stupidly, I, I tried to talk him out of it for two days. I said, the kids have made you something for Father’s Day and please wait. They wanna give it to you. And he said, I don’t need any more meaningless crap. And he got in his car and he left and there was such a freedom in him leaving. It’s one of the greatest days of my life. And my kids feel the same.

Anne (12:16):
Have you thought of that as deliverance that you were delivered that day?

“At That Moment, I Was Free”

Rachel (12:20):
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And at the end of that month, God spoke to me and I don’t say that lightly. I never say that, but he told me to pray for something. It was like he inadvertently reached out into my heart and he took my ex out and he said, enough, you’re done. Let him go. Because all it was doing was killing me. And at that moment, I was free. And so I had filed for the second restraining order. Got it. Without problem. And we were just sitting and just breathing the kids and I were just breathing and God said things to me that I didn’t really like at the time. But he had told me my story was not over and that he had other things for me to do and what they were gonna be. And I couldn’t really see past it at that moment because it’s like, you just got your vision back mm-hmm and you’re just barely starting to see.

“You Didn’t Break Your Vow – He Did That”


And, and it’s like, you know, you’ve come up out of the deep blue water and it’s like, you’re just trying to breathe. That moment was, it was pretty big and it was pretty freeing for me. And so for a year and a half, God told me to pray something very specific. And so I know that I will never feel, and for whoever, whatever woman out there right now feels condemnation for being divorced. You didn’t break your vow. You didn’t do that. He did that. And God let you go because he does not want you to be connected to that person anymore. And you are still valuable. You are still precious and you are still whole, and you’re not damaged goods in God’s eyes. You’re just not.

Anne (14:16):
Throughout the scriptures. Old Testament, New Testament. I study from the Book of Mormon; throughout all the scriptures, we see righteous people trying to get to safety. The most famous one is the Israelites coming out of Egypt. When women are thinking about divorce and you frame it as separation from wickedness or separation from unrighteousness, it’s sort of a different take on it because so many women are thinking, I need to hold my family together. I need to hold my family together rather than the thing that is not on every page of the entire Bible, but it’s a lot of saying separate yourself from wickedness. And I will deliver you have faith; have hope, work toward deliverance. My hope is that women will turn their eyes that direction to realize that what they need to pray for, rather than there has been changing, is deliverance. And their deliverance might come in the form of their husband changing. God can do anything, but it also might come in a different way. So what helped you, you know, you’re, you’re looking for help. You’re seeking to do the right thing. You’re seeking to keep your family together. What helped you see that this was abuse?

“He Liked To Seem Like The Good Guy”

Rachel (15:29):
I think that what’s fortunate and unfortunate when he became far worse than anything that my I’d seen my dad do. And I, I don’t know. I allowed, I think it was probably Christian women in my life that were just really trying to, to uphold me. And I think it’s because I I’ve had a couple really good friends walk through it. And for me it was helping see what, what was bad in them because I have a very close friend who probably will be forever, legally separated in her circumstance for me to see her and see what he was doing and helping protect her and helping see it. And then it was just like something like the light just switched on. And I went, oh my gosh, mine’s been faking it. And he liked being, you know, in on the joke about the other one. And he liked to seem like the good guy.


And so it was around me. It was around me in a small way with, with my parents in this, this hiding concept that was taught throughout generations of my family in how much my ex had a very, his parents had a very skewed version of me. And so I realized he’d probably been badmouthing me to them, our entire marriage, cause I tried so hard to have a relationship with them and couldn’t, and so I think that it was seeing other women walk through it when I finally realized, because I was really convinced that I am so glad that I would never be one of those women and I wasn’t gonna be a statistic. And then I finally realized, I’m like, oh my gosh, it’s like the worst one because you know, I might not have a bloody face or a broken rib or might not be getting, you know, STDs, which I did get checked for.

“Are You Being Abused?”


But it’s because he looks the part, he looks so nice and something just flipped in that. And I had another friend and she looked at me and she asked me one day and she said, Rachel, are you being abused? And I said, yeah, it’s not okay. Further, parenting was always my responsibility. The kids were my responsibility, how they treated him, how they responded to him and the lack of involvement that he put in their lives, but that they were supposed to have this ultimate respect and obedience to him. And if they didn’t, it was my fault. I think that I learned it mostly by what was happening or not happening in my children’s lives and their behavior. And my friend said it, well, she said it best. She said your kids, they were downcast.


They were fearful. They didn’t make eye contact. She described one of my older kids is just almost having an animal sort of afraidness where they just like were just trying to survive. So I would say to other women, look at your kids and look at the other women in your life that have maybe gone through this. So my goal, what drives me to speak on this at all is to help someone else see and to help the other women out there see that they don’t have to be in spiritual bondage because they’re still trying to honor God in the midst of abuse. And they’re still trying to not break up their family. You’re not breaking up your family. He already did that. His choices already did that. It’s okay for you to stay safe. It’s okay for you to get away. God wants you to be safe.

“I Could Not Keep Covering For Him”


I think that the biggest thing was, was my kids and seeing other people trust their trusted people’s reactions to what was going on with them. Despite anything that I tried to do, I could not keep them safe from him and still pretending like everything was okay and covering for him was only making the abuse toward me and them worse and not speaking the truth was gonna make their abuse worse because he did this really weird work. He had it out for my son and his goal was to make it seem like my son was starting to become older. And his goal was to get my son arrested somehow some way, because he now looked at him as a threat to his world that he got to control. And that was very scary for him. And he started getting extremely more volatile and irrational just in trying to do that. If their goal is to hurt your own kids. That’s not a good thing.

Anne (20:30):
We’re gonna pause the conversation here again, and Rachel’s gonna join me again next week. So stay tuned for that. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week stay safe out there.

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