Helping women of faith find hope and healing after emotional and spiritual abuse

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Episode 21 – The Role the Church Plays in Emotional Abuse

by | May 30, 2019 | Flying Free Podcast, Healing from Spiritual Abuse, Learn with Natalie, Learning, Waking Up | 10 comments

The church is sometimes the most dangerous place for a woman to go for help when she is in an emotionally and spiritually abusive marriage. Here’s why.


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  1. MJ

    Hi Natalie,
    I have so valued your insight and encouragement over the last year, including your book! Thank you for your transparency and dedication to changing culture. I have a question on church abuse that is a little different from what most of you have experienced. I’ll try to describe as best as possible.

    Throughout my 5 year struggle in an abusive marriage, I was at first open with a few women in my church. They were supportive, although uneducated in knowing how to help me. As time went on and I had to take greater and greater measures, I continued to open up to church leadership to inform them of my decisions. This included separation #1 with restraining order, and separation #2 with filing for divorce. At every point along the way I didn’t “counsel” with them, I had other expert resources for that, but rather informed them of my next steps. This included the pastor and assistant pastor, as well as two women in the women’s ministry. I was very transparent and answered whatever questions they had. In all instances, they supported my decisions and told me to let them know if there was anything they could do to help.

    Throughout this last separation, my wise counsel has been my sister and christian counselor/dv advocate. A little over 3 months ago, at the direction of the Holy Spirit, I broke no contact with my husband and asked him some questions. The HS told me that he would show me his heart (I didn’t think it would be good). As we began talking, I began to see that Jesus had done a complete miracle in my husband. As we dove deep into many conversations, I saw a heart of complete repentance and turning from sin and addiction and a submission to Jesus. I was astonished! We began making steps towards reconciliation, with my husband voluntarily putting agreements and consequences into place to keep me and our children safe should he choose to re-enter a cycle of abuse or addiction. My wise counsel was in full support, with caution as to time showing the fruit of the repentance. The Holy Spirit guided me to take it one day at a time and live in truth.

    At this point, my husband began attending church with me again, a changed man. I informed my pastors that we were on the path to reconciliation. Their response was to praise Jesus. I had a long conversation with each of the two women in the women’s ministry. They had several questions which I answered and advice which I assured them I would take into consideration. They said they were so thankful and joyful to hear of what God was doing in our lives and agreed with me that time would be the litmus test.

    My husband emailed the pastor and requested suggestions on a mentor as well as a marriage mentor for us as a couple. There was no followup to that request other than to say he would give it some consideration. We continued to attend church, and bible studies.

    Then about a month in, I get a call from the assistant pastor. He informs me that there are “women in leadership” who are greatly concerned about my decisions and want the pastors to step in. He would not name who he was talking about. When I informed him that I had been walking through this process with my “wise counsel” and that I had conversations with two of the women in leadership who nodded and said “yes we support you and are so thankful to hear what God is doing”, he told me that those conversations were insufficient and that they needed additional opportunity to express their opinions. I asked him why these women had not contacted me – my phone is on, my door is open at any time. He had no response.He tells me I have a blind spot and that I have gone about this completely wrong. He further outlines that we need to sit down and build a re-integration plan and requests that my husband not attend church for the next 3 weeks until we can do so. It makes everyone too uncomfortable and no one is at peace with the situation. And yet, no one even five weeks later has called or texted to address this with me I let him know that respectfully, I am not in agreement with any of this, and rather than a spirit of restoration, I feel that they are coming at this from a perspective of punishment and condemnation. .

    At the same time I received the call from the assistant pastor, my husband received a call from the head pastor who launches into the discussion saying “we have been dealing with this drama for two years now and enough is enough.” My husband interrupts and says he will not continue the conversation without me present. We later call the assistant pastor together and he reiterates to my husband what he told me on the phone.

    Four weeks later my husband receives a call from the assistant pastor after we text to try to find out what the next steps are. The assistant pastor informs my husband that both the pastors and the women in leadership are requiring that I give a full apology for the “way I handled things” (I can only assume this means the discussion or inviting my husband back to church) and that I give these women additional opportunity to voice their concerns (again, I do not have the identities of these women, nor has anyone attempted to contact me to discuss anything). In addition to that the pastors want to have a 90 minute discussion with my husband and I where I will give my apology, provide better explanation of my decisions and the history of our marriage, as well as put together a reintegration plan and a plan to rebuild trust (they’re not just talking about my husband rebuilding trust, but me rebuilding trust with them).

    At no point in this process has there been any acknowledgement of my wisdom and grace over the last 5 years, nor any mention of supporting and coming alongside my husband and I in the process of restoration. It has been completely about me “getting it all wrong” and needing to provide an apology to leadership.

    Sorry for this being so long. I am completely dumbfounded as to how to proceed. I have searched my heart and asked to Lord to reveal to me any area of sin, and I find myself coming up completely blameless. In every step of this journey I have obeyed the Holy Spirit and sought wise counsel. Both in separating and reconciling. I find no reason to provide an apology and quite frankly am questioning the wisdom of walking into a 90 minute discussion where my voice may not be heard and further abuse done to my heart. I will be talking with my wise counsel asap on this but based on all I’ve read of your experience with the church in your journey, I thought you would have some beautifully wise counsel as well. Bless you Natalie.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      Do you and your husband feel that church is a safe place where you can make mistakes, grow, and thrive? If not – find a church that offers that. There are a bazillion churches out there. You need to find one that is safe for you. I’m sorry this has happened to you. Very painful.

      • MJ

        Thank you for your reply. Previously, I would have said yes, it is a safe place. This is what is preached from the pulpit, and during my struggle through this situation, I felt loved and accepted (if not really helped). I guess the ability to make mistakes was never tested. I have been here for 7 years now and I’m in positions of leadership. Seeing what I’m seeing now is leading me to seriously question if what is taught (redemption, reconciliation, right relationship, the miracle working power of God) is actually put into practice. I’m scared to find out the truth and I’m scared to get hurt again.

        • Natalie Hoffman

          It’s hard to face these hurtful things, but you will be able to move forward toward something better after you’ve processed and grieved. Unfortunately, this experience is a common one. 🙁

  2. Rachel

    Hi, Natalie.
    Not sure if you have addressed this issue already, but do you have theological perspective on the interpretation of Jesus turning tables
    Over in his anger? I’ve heard this story used to justify anger a lot and wondered if there is some clarify or more wholistic perspective on how to manage anger as Christians. If Jesus is having a tantrum and acting in rage, how is it not okay for us to have those moments?

    • Natalie Hoffman

      The Bible is pretty clear that God is an emotional God and has created us to be emotional beings just like Him. Anger isn’t a sin. It’s an emotion that comes as a natural outcome of hurt or injustice of some kind. It’s part of our bodies. What we do with an emotion can be constructive or destructive. Anger over abuse shows the heart of God is alive and well inside you. A lack of anger over abuse should raise a red flag and cause one to ask themselves – why? Why the apathy? That anger is driven by love for people. God created us to love and be loved, and abuse destroys all of that. It’s satanic. But that anger needs to be focused on helping others get out. On sheltering them. Supporting them. Speaking out against abuse. Etc. When Jesus drove out the money changers, He was demonstrating the heart of God for human beings who were being used and abused by the system. Christians are the ones who have indoctrinated themselves into the idea that anger is bad – and experiencing anger means there is something wrong with you. Actually, the exact opposite is true. Anger means you are functioning properly.

  3. Jennifer

    Sadly, this sounds like you wrote exactly what I experienced! Praying as I try to heal I can forgive and move on. Thankfully Jesus is my first love and the one I depend on for total fullfillment but the pain of the betrayal is real.

  4. Brenda Popp

    I am continually blessed by your insight and support. I am so grateful that you started this ministry. God is using your unique talents combined with your own experiences to help me to be set free and heal in the midst of my own unspeakable suffering. This was just what I needed today. Thank you Natalie.

  5. Donna Lewis

    Awesome word! So true, I wish it were not, but it is. The church has to wake up in this area. The religious ideals must die so the the grace and truth of Christ will live fully through us.

    I was told to wait for my abusive, adulterous ex-husband to come back to me. I was told I should never re-marry or I would be in adultery. I was told I would never have a place in ministry again because of my divorce. I read an article by a “divorce recovery” pastoral team that I needed to repent for my divorce. I had not filed. But still, I needed to repent from the sin of divorce. After I re-married a post on Facebook came out that my new marriage was sinful and I needed to repent. I was told I could not adopt a child by a Christian adoption agency because of my divorce.

    But, GOD …. …… …..

    I am in ministry again, I lead worship, I write songs reflecting the grace and healing found in Christ Jesus. I speak words of life and truth. I am re-married, almost 16 years, to a man who daily demonstrates the love of Jesus Christ to me. I am ready to publish my first book. a recovery devotional for people who have experienced verbal and emotional abuse. I am in an authentic church that endeavors to see as the Lord sees, truthfully, with compassion. Instead of children, I adopted two dogs and a cat from rescues. It’s ok, my three adult children need all the love I can pour into them. They’ve been through hell and back.

    Here’s my life lesson through it all: God is greater. I believe He is shining a light on this darkness and exposing it and healing the people impacted by its sinister battery. He has a plan to get His bride on track with His heart. He’s executing it through people like you. Praise God for Flying Free!

    Thank you for your wisdom, counsel and admonishment.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      This is SO ENCOURAGING!! Thank you for sharing your own Flying Free story!!


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