Is your husband using pornography? But he’s also your pastor? Bishop? Rabbi? Minister? Is he your spiritual or religious leader? Learn what to do when your abuser is clergy.
Women experience a unique trauma when their spiritual leader is also their unfaithful and abusive husband. Miss C. went through years of devastation, confusion, and pain. Her abusive ex-husband, a youth pastor, betrayed her, lied to her, gaslit her, and used other clergy members and religious programs to silence her. Hear her full story on the free BTR Podcast.
My Abuser Is Clergy: Where Can I Turn?
In many churches and religious institutions, women can feel completely trapped when their abuser is also a religious leader.
Victims often relate that telling the truth about the abuse and betrayal is humiliating. Religious leaders back up the abuser, minimize the abuse, and turn on the victim all-too often.
So where can victims turn when their faith communities fail them?
Find Safe Support Right Away
Clergy-induced trauma is unique and especially painful. When that clergy is your own husband, it’s devastating beyond words.
Abusive clergy condition victims to feel isolated, as if there is no world beyond the religious community.
Victims: find safe support outside of your faith community right away.
This may feel daunting. You may feel like you have no friends or family outside of your faith community. But don’t despair. There are resources available to you right now.
Steps To Take When Your Abuser Is Clergy
Your decision to find safety is not a reflection of your spirituality or your faith in God. Rather, it’s an indication that men who were supposed to be acting in God’s name have gravely wronged you and are not worthy of the titles that they bear as religious leaders. Others may shame, blame, and dismiss you if you seek safety from abusive clergy. But find hope and freedom in the knowledge that God wants you to be safe more than anything.
When your abuser is clergy, take the following steps to safety:
- Do not engage. Don’t try to convince him or his ministerial colleagues that he is abusive
- Speak as openly as you can to a trustworthy friend or family member
- If you don’t have a friend or family member, call an emotional support line and share what’s happening
- Determine your safety needs and set boundaries
- Join a support network, like the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group
- From a safe distance (emotionally and physically) consider holding your abuser accountable. A safe friend, family member, or BTR coach can guide you through this process.
- For reportable crimes, consider meeting with Coach Renee.
Betrayal Trauma Is Here For You When Your Abuser Is Clergy
We understand how you may be feeling. Trapped. Confused. Afraid. Alone. But Betrayal Trauma Recovery is here for you.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets every day in every time zone. You can process your trauma, share your story, and ask questions. Join today.
You can heal. You can find safety. You can find healing. You don’t have to do it alone.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne.
I have a member of our community on today’s episode. She’ll also be returning next week. She’s going to be sharing her story. Before we get to that, thank you to those of you who have given us a five-star rating on Apple podcasts or your other podcasting apps. Isolated women are finding us because of your reviews.
For those of you who are listening who are beginning to recognize that your situation involves emotional abuse, psychological abuse, or sexual coercion we created betrayal Trauma Recovery Group just for you. It’s multiple times a day in every single time zone.
Now for today’s guest.
Recognizing Your Husband’s Abusive Behaviors
ANNE: I have a member of our community on today. We’re going to call her Miss C. She is technically still married to her abuser, but they’ve been separated for two years. So, it’ll probably be about 24 years before the divorce is finalized. She has two children. One is a teenager and another is a preteen. Let’s start with your story. Talk about how things first started and if you recognize your husband’s abusive behaviors at first.
MISS C: I don’t think that I did recognize his abusive behaviors at first. I think, in a way, I was the perfect person for his abusive behaviors because I grew up in a home where my father was very detached. He adopted me. My mom and I came as a package deal and so there were a lot of provisions, but not a lot of love. And then my mother also was a very broken person; she grew up in an alcoholic home, a lot of domestic violence, and so there were a lot of behaviors and things that I learned to love people despite it. Just, you know, I didn’t really question if this behavior or these words or any of this stuff was abusive. It was just my life.
When Your Husband Is Clergy And He’s Using Porn
So, when I married my husband, I think we were about two years in, we were in the ministry and he was a youth pastor, I had noticed a charge on one of our cards. You know, what is this and he was just very easy about it. Oh, it’s just a fraudulent charge and I’ve already called the credit card company. I’m working on getting it refunded.
ANNE: I’m assuming it was a charge for porn?
MISS C: Yes. I’m not even sure exactly what it was, it just I had never seen it before, but I knew that it was something x rated, and so I think that was my first instance with it. Then another one happened, and I went to him again. What is this? What’s going on? Do we need to change this card? And this time he wasn’t as easy with it. He was a little bit more agitated, a little uglier about it. My questioning it, I think that was the seed for me then where I started to realize the doubt. Possibly, this is not just an error.
Abusers React Badly When You Ask Questions
ANNE: Hmm. Maybe there’s something more to this because he was acting so weird about it, and also maybe he wouldn’t shut down the guard? He was like, we don’t need to shut it down, but we’re claiming that it was a fraud?
MISS C: Right. We’re just going to take care of this. I think his exact words were you just need to get off my case about it. I got it.
Finding Porn After Being Out Of Town
So, we were still in the ministry. We lived considerably far away from my family, and so I would go home. I didn’t have children at the time, I would go home and visit for a week or two at a time. I had gone to visit, and I came back and there was a videotape that I found. It was a VHS tape. It really dates me there. I remember handing it to him. I knew that it was a porn tape, I could just tell by the name of it. I don’t remember it exactly, but I knew what it was and that’s when it kind of blew up, and unfortunately that night we were actually heading to a youth activity and we were fighting all the way to the youth activities. We finally get there, and, you know, we’ve got a youth team that’s waiting to come together in prayer and set up and get going and get started and he and I are fighting. We pull up, and he just loses it and jumps out of the car, and starts walking down the road.
When Your Abusive Husband Uses Temper Tantrums To Exert Control
ANNE: You know, that is a really common abusive thing to do. Did you know that? I don’t know if you know that but jumping out of a car to sort of being like I’m not going to take this anymore, sort of, I’m not going to participate. It’s a strange form of control that most people aren’t aware happens. So, I just want to point that out if other women have been like, oh, he has jumped out of the car and stomped away.
MISS C: Yeah. It’s a rural area so there isn’t any mistake that he’s walking down the road. You know, I’m so embarrassed because he’s throwing basically throwing this temper tantrum walking down the road. I’m not going to tell people what’s going on. So, the youth leader; he was the captain of the youth until my husband came in (he was kind of underneath if you would say, underneath my husband) he came out to me and he’s like, what’s going on? Like he knew something had happened. I was just like, you know, he’s upset. So, he went and talked to him, and they came back.
When Your Abusive Husband Is Clergy, You Don’t Have To Protect Him
I think for me, I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do at that point. We’re miles and miles away from support, family. We’re brand new to this ministry, you know, this is our livelihood. He’s supposed to be the leader of the home. What am I supposed to do? There is so much shame. You definitely don’t want to betray your husband by saying anything to anybody, and it didn’t die. It just became this ugly thing between us that slowly deteriorated the ministry and us.
ANNE: Did you go down the pornography addiction recovery route at all at this time? Was there like he’s addicted to porn, he needs help, let’s give him some help. Was there any of that? Did you go down that road?
MISS C: Not at first because it was so shocking and so not how you pictured. You’re going into the ministry, you’re in the ministry, you’re spreading the gospel to teenagers. You’re watching teenagers get saved. I think I just threw myself into the ministry.
When Your Abusive Husband Is Clergy & It’s Not “Enough” To Change Him
ANNE: Did you think if we pray enough, if we work on the ministry enough, it’ll just kind of go away?
MISS C: I hoped that he would love the ministry enough to give it up for it. I dove in. This is what we came here for, this is what we’re going to do. I love doing this. You say that you love doing this. We even did a purity conference.
ANNE: Oh. Were you like, wait a minute. He’s a hypocrite. Or did you think if he does it enough it’ll save him?
When You Can’t Respect Or Trust Your Husband As Clergy Anymore
MISS C: I think at that point, I did still look to him and respect him as my leader. I believed that this was just a struggle. Like he just needed to, like you said, just needed to dig in. It doesn’t define him. Not what it became. No, I don’t know if it became that or I just opened my eyes more.
ANNE: It was that way all the time and then you realize more of what was going on overtime, maybe?
MISS C: Right. I stopped, for lack of a better term, making excuses for it.
Trauma Mama, Husband Drama Can Help You
We’re going to take a break here to talk about my book Trauma Mama, Husband Drama, which is a picture book for adults. It is the perfect way to help explain to someone what is happening to you. If you’re getting a lot of roadblocks may be with family and friends who don’t quite understand why you’re so upset, Trauma Mama is a visual way to show them.
Alright, now back to my conversation with Miss C.
When Your Abusive Husband Goes Down The “Pornography Addiction” Road
Let’s talk about when you went down the pornography addiction recovery route for a little while because clearly, that did not work. We know the end of this. Let’s talk about like once you knew it was a porn thing. Talk about when you tried the pornography addiction recovery route. How did things go with that?
MISS C: I think we’ll have been married 24 years by the time the divorce is final, and I would say we were separated quite a few times throughout our marriage, and it all was pornography-related. When we got back together, the longest time that we kind of stayed together, I got pregnant with my son shortly after us getting back together. Bringing kids into the picture changed the picture for me, and maybe that has a lot to do with growing up in an emotionally abusive home. I had a tolerance for myself, but then you bring an innocent into the picture and I had zero tolerance.
ANNE: For the abuse?
MISS C: For any kind of abuse.
Identifying Your Husband’s Behavior As Abuse
ANNE: In this case, if you don’t know that it’s abuse, maybe the nonsense you might call it?
MISS C: Right. Because I don’t think I start calling it abuse until probably the last five years. That’s when I actually realized the way he was acting, the way he was treating me and the children was abusive.
ANNE: So, before you used the word abuse what word would you use?
MISS C: Addiction. It was his addiction.
ANNE: His addiction. Okay. So pornography addiction.
When Spiritual Leaders Use Pornography
MISS C: Right. So then, that we were back together, had our son, he was only like nine months old when it reared its ugly head again. I was working overnight at a hotel and the hotel was right across the street from the apartment buildings and they had an especially scary night because I worked the night audit. I went down to the end of the hallway and I was trying to call him, and no answer, no answer, no answer. I got home the next morning, and the computer was sitting on the coffee table. I flipped it open and he had just closed it and not shut everything off, and so there it was in my face.
I was really angry this time and I responded in a way I had never responded. I woke him up, plunked the laptop on his stomach, and he just was really cocky. He said that he had left it on there on purpose. He wanted it to end. He didn’t want it to become an issue. My response to that was that I took everything that was on the long dresser and threw it at him. One at a time.
When Your Husband Manipulates & Gaslights
ANNE: He wanted what to end? He wanted his porn use to end so he left it out there so you could catch him?
MISS C: Yes. That’s what he said.
ANNE: Because he can’t stop using by himself. So, by saying that he kind of said it’s your responsibility to help me stop?
MISS C: I guess so.
ANNE: A little bit. Yeah. Okay.
When Your Husband Goes Down The Addiction Recovery Road & The Abuse Doesn’t Stop
MISS C: Yeah. So I left for a week or so. I took my son and left. I told him he had a lot to think about. And when I came back, I did come back with an arsenal. I said, “This is what’s going to happen if we’re going to stay together. So, I’m not going to do this game that we did before kids. I’m not doing it.” So, the first place he went to was Celebrate Recovery, and he completed it. They do it like in one year. So, then the following year I went to a Hearts Restored. It was in the same church and I went through the program. So I had to be gone. So he stayed home then, and then they asked me if I would co-teach the next year and so I cotaught the next year.
ANNE: At any point during this time did they call anything abuse or point out the abuse or say these behaviors are abusive?
MISS C: No. The Hearts Restored group centered on, it’s going to sound terrible but it wasn’t, but it really did center on our relationship with God and in a way the things that were broken within us that allow these behaviors to continue.
ANNE: Kind of a codependent model a little bit?
MISS C: Maybe. Because what I did actually work out was a lot of stuff in my past. My grandmother dying from alcoholism, how alcoholism affected my parents, my mother, my stepfather. It’s connected and there was actually a lot of freedom for me gained from those things.
When You Find Growth & Empowerment, But He Keeps Going Back To Porn
ANNE: So, you found it to be helpful for your own personal improvement and your own personal healing, even if it didn’t point out the abuse at the time?
MISS C: Right. So, then he had fallen again. So this time instead of going to Celebrate Recovery because he was just, oh, I’m not going to do that again, he started meeting with a pastor. For accountability.
When You Reach Out For Help To Other Church Leaders & They Harm You
ANNE: For his “porn addiction”. And did this pastor pointed out to you that this was abuse at all, or was abuse ever mentioned during this time?
MISS C: No. Because unfortunately, this pastor had his own hidden agenda and closet because he actually was in his own personal sins, in regard to something along the same lines. So, that also came out within a year or two of this. I remember the first meeting we had with him, and we just kind of talked about why we were here and what we were hoping for in counseling. He sat back and he leaned back in his chair and he said, Miss C, this is nothing new under the sun. This is very common. I just remember immediately just feeling hot. Pretty much everything he said after that I don’t even remember. We got out to the car and I remember my husband looking at me and saying, go ahead. I know you’re mad. I said it’s not anything new? It’s not that big of a deal? But it is to me. This is not right. So, he did counsel with him for a while. I don’t remember anything beneficial ever coming out of that. So, then the next thing was an app that you can load on your phone.
ANNE: Fortify maybe?
When You Become Your Husband’s Accountability Partner
MISS C: No. It’s a popular one now. Covenant eyes. So, covenant eyes entered our story, and the biggest mistake that I made with covenant eyes is I became an accountability partner. Not good, because that just became a cat and mouse game then. Something would pop up in a report and he would blame it on spam or phishing. You know, he opened up his email and some ad on the side was triggering it. It’s just constant. It was just a game. I can’t tell you how many times we went from flip phones to a smartphone, flip phone to a smartphone because he would get exhausted with the flip phone and say he’s fine and then he’d go to a smartphone and he’d fall. It’s just disgusting how much money we probably threw away.
When Your Sacrifice Everything To Help Your Abuser Change, And He Just Gets Worse
Then we also went to the last and final one which was purity boot camp that was at another church. He finished the boot camp, graduated, and went to the next level of the boot camp. It was while he was at this boot camp that everything just fell completely apart.
ANNE: We’re going to pause right here in the conversation, and we are going to continue it next week.
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