An anonymous, personal reflection on the experience of sexual exploitation in childhood. The reflection also draws in the biblical story of Amnon’s rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13). On the one hand this is a declaration reminiscent of #MeToo but it is also an expression of defiant and articulate silence and a reminder that there isn’t a single, let […]
“I feel like there’s nothing I can do! I feel trapped!”
Day after day, week after week, I sit across from people – women, mostly – who cry these words out as they describe the oppressive conditions they live under.
We hear an ever-increasing number of voices being raised against domestic violence and domestic abuse. And that’s wonderful!
“S’about time!” I say!
What I don’t hear anyone talking about is “Domestic Oppression.” In fact, when I mention domestic oppression, I get looks of confusion and cognitive dissonance from people.
Thankfully, in doing a Google search this morning, I was encouraged to discover that one of my blog posts from four years ago finally moved into second place!
Are you KIDDING ME?!
Sorry. But this is ridiculous! How is it that the seedbed of domestic abuse isn’t part of the conversation about domestic abuse?
Okay. Let me take a deep breath and see if we can get on the same page here…
Let’s start with the working definition of domestic oppression from an upcoming book about domestic oppression that I am collaborating on (If you use this, give proper credit, please?):
Domestic Oppression: Domestic oppression is an ongoing pattern of intimidating and domineering behavior employed by one family member to control one or more other family members. A superior/inferior, hierarchical power differential is established, maintained, and increased more and more as time goes on.
Let’s talk a little about the perpetrators thereof:
Domestic oppressors systematically tyrannize, intimidate, threaten, emotionally coerce, dehumanize, objectify, demean, degrade, manipulate, and bully at least one other person within the family home—usually their spouse. This closely matches the description of terrorism.
Domestic oppressors (DOs) fall somewhere along a spectrum of emotional predation, ranging from harmful exploitation on the less dangerous end to the Dark Triad on the other. On the low end are those whose default is to objectify others and use them as resources to get their needs met.
On the other end are those who are a great danger to others, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, soul-ly, or a combination of any or all of these.
This morning, I (again) sat across from a woman who gave detailed descriptions of a “head-of-household” using intimidation, manipulation, coercion, demeaning, degrading, bullying, and finally low-grade violence [physical aggression without striking or kicking] to dominate and control the members of his family.
The chief targets of this behavior are his several daughters, some of whom are grown yet still living at home because of the oppressive “Covering Theology” the family has fallen for.
After she left, I was alerted to a news story from the NY Times that mega-church pastor and Word of Faith preacher Creflo Dollar was arrested after he choked and punched his 15-year-old daughter.
When you read the news story, you can see the tendrils of the domestic oppression in this family system. Again, domestic oppression is the seedbed for domestic violence!
“Dollar’s 19-year-old daughter corroborated most of her sister’s story, but Dollar disputed it, telling a sheriff’s deputy he was trying to restrain her when she became disrespectful. When she began to hit back, he wrestled her to the floor and spanked her, according to the police report.” (emphasis added)
The story goes on to describe what, in my experience, is an entitled oppressor enforcing his supposed power and authority over a weaker family member and resorting to violence in order to prove his right to dominate.
So, let’s start speaking and speaking well about domestic oppression, shall we?
Oh, and just so we don’t forget to get God’s opinion about all this, God speaks about oppression 84 times in Scripture (the equivalent of how many times He speaks about sexual impurity, fornication, and adultery).
Jesus Himself said, ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send the oppressed away in liberty”” (Luke 4:18 NET)
OPPRESSION IS A BIG DEAL TO GOD AND HE’S AGAINST IT! And it absolutely is not to be happening in “Christian” churches and “Christian” families.
More on this will be forthcoming soon, I promise! There is a lot more that needs to be discussed – especially in and by the church.
Please be in prayer for these families I mentioned, including Mr. Dollar’s. God wants the oppressed rescued and the oppressors redeemed.
And He has a whole lot of justice stacking up against these evildoers if they do not repent (“Woe to you…).
Soli Deo Gloria
The following is from an excellent piece written by Sophia Lee of World Magazine in her column, “Sophia’s World.” The link to the original piece is here
‘We don’t talk about that stuff’
Dismissing or minimizing accusations of abuse in the church can tear families and communities apart
by Sophia Lee
I remember when I was a 9-year-old pastor/missionary’s kid growing up in Singapore, there was a man who always loitered around our church after Sunday service. My father’s church shared the same building with another church, and that man was a regular attender of that church’s morning service.
Being a pastor’s kid, I spent a lot of time waiting while my parents and other church members talked for hours about grown-up stuff, usually praying for world evangelism or something as eternally consequential. My younger brother and I befriended another pastor’s two kids who were also bored to death, and we would spend that time playing hopscotch, jumping rope, or buying snacks at the nearby shops. It wasn’t long before we bumped into that man.
I forget his real name, but we called him “Uncle.” Uncle was in his 40s, with a gangly frame, knobby knees, and wispy, balding hair. I still remember the day my brother and friends told me they met a friendly guy, and soon, Uncle was hanging out with us almost every Sunday afternoon.
At the time, I didn’t realize how weird it was that a middle-aged man would spend his Sunday afternoons with a bunch of prepubescent kids. I just liked that he bought snacks and cheap toys for us. But I didn’t like how he always wanted me to sit on his lap, and I didn’t like that whenever I refused, he then asked the other pastor’s daughter over. It bugged me that he only seemed to want the girls, that he never asked to cuddle with the boys.
I was too young to understand what’s going on, but even then I was acutely aware of this leaden, sickening feeling in my gut that I now recognize as shame and disgust. I was also confused: If this man is a bad man with unsavory intentions, why would he be in church? Why would the adults let him hang about? I had trusted him because he was a professed Christian and made verbal references to Jesus, but now he didn’t feel safe.
Then one day, when Uncle asked me to sit on his lap again, I decided I had enough. I jumped up and yelled, “No!” Then I stomped away, and I told the other kids that we will never, ever hang out with that man again. I never told my parents about Uncle because shame and disgust made me want to hide and forget everything, and I was relieved when my father’s church eventually moved to another location. We never saw that man again. Today as an adult, I look back and wonder if my intuition was right—and I thank God nothing serious ever happened.
It’s been a while since I’ve thought about this incident, but I’ve been experiencing that familiar uneasy, skin-crawling feeling again as I read today’s news about long-hushed sexual assaults on women and children, as I research domestic abuse cases in churches, as I meet various individuals who tell me childhood stories of experiencing rape and molestation, as I meet homeless women who tell me they lost everything after fleeing domestic abuse. But this time, it’s not just disgust I feel—it’s a slow-rising burn of anger against unaccounted injustice.
One 27-year-old woman I recently met told me she was raised in a very conservative evangelical family who spent a lot of time at church—and that’s where a fellow church member raped her when she was barely a teenager. She told the appropriate adults what had happened, but no one seemed to take action against her perpetrator. The knowledge that the church—a sacred community that’s supposed to be her safe refuge—overlooked this act of grievous wrong almost severed this woman’s relationship with God.
For the last few weeks I’ve been researching how churches handle claims of domestic abuse, and I spent hours talking to women who said their husbands abused them and their children. Several of the women I talked to said when they finally brought the issue up to their church leaders, hoping for safety and relief, they instead felt hurt, confused, and revictimized when their church didn’t seem to take their abuse claims seriously. All these women eventually left their churches, and one told me she still couldn’t enter church doors without having a panic attack.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says one in four women and one in seven men in the United States “have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” With those numbers, the problem is likely prevalent in churches. Biblical counselor Warren Lamb, a former abuse victim who has been counseling abusers and abuse victims for three decades, said he’s been “passionately banging on the walls, windows, and roofs of churches” to alert faith leaders that domestic oppression is real and destructive, and it’s going on inside their congregations’ households: “But we don’t talk about that stuff.” And from what I hear and read from several Christian abuse specialists, it’s not uncommon for church leaders to dismiss or minimize accusations of abuse.
Lamb said many churches don’t want to admit that someone in their congregation could be an abuser, that such evil could exist within their pews. It’s hard for people to believe that the smiling, generous church member or leader who serves so faithfully and prays such sincere prayers could be a master manipulator abusing his wife and children back home. These Christians might agree that wolves can creep into the sheep pen, but few want to believe it is true of their own church. They acknowledge the reality of sin but emphasize grace and redemption without fully fleshing out the necessity of soul-wrenching, self-undoing repentance.
To those churches, Lamb warns that whenever they let an abuser escape accountability for his sin, “It poisons the pond. It impacts everybody.” And that’s what I saw in many real-life stories: The evil of domestic abuse doesn’t just affect the couple involved—it breaks families, friends, and communities apart.
It disfigures the glorious image of earthly marriage as a metaphor of Christ’s union with the Church. It prepares the perfect breeding ground for the devil to wreck more havoc in the most important relationships within the Body of Christ, and it silences other victims who lose hope for justice and redemption.
There is evil in our churches. We are not immune to the devastating disease of sin, and each time a public scandal breaks out in one of our churches, it’s just the smoke pouring out of a whole underworld of various other hidden, hushed-up sins within the church body. No wonder God deals harshly with sin that invades His people, as demonstrated in Achan’s story in Joshua 7, or the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.
Dealing with sin is ugly, messy, dirty work. Jesus Christ demonstrated His love for us by stepping into our ugly, dirty mess, and then He demonstrated how ugly and dirty sin is by dying in our place in the most brutal way imaginable. If that’s how God views and deals with sin, that’s how seriously we need to view sin as well, and we must reflect Christ’s love for His Body by doing the hard, hard work of fighting it.
Thank you, Sophia Lee!
Soli Deo Gloria
“I don’t want to hurt anymore!!”
The following is by a young woman who has been healing in the gentle and steady redemptive relationships of God’s people.
Dry. Parched. Lifeless.
The wild animals blazed through my delicate branches, stripping me of my bark. The wind came and went and my base toppled over. The blazing sun came out. With my roots exposed my soil dried out and my leaves withered, my branches dried. I was without hope. My pot was cracked. My branches on the ground. I wept. Cried out for help, but no aid came. For days, months, years I laid there. I withdrew inside and lay there. Lifeless.
One day, the Master of the garden came. He saw my broken leaves, my scarred flesh, and my exposed roots. He wept. He then scooped my little, broken body, that was so close to death and planted me by the stream. He nourished my roots, surrounding the soil around my roots with rich food. He propped me upright. Patiently he waited. He continued to tend to my needs, coaxing my mangled and pain-stricken self, to come out of hiding.
Flickers. No longer alone and neglected – hope flickered. Dare I hope? Dare I begin to trust? Time. I need time.
Time is what He gave me. Faithfully tending to my unresponsive arms, roots, and soil.
One day, without realizing it, a bud sprang forth. How? When? Where? Did this truly come from my dead self? The Master of the garden saw this and delighted in my new growth. He continued to care for me. Reviving me gradually with His tender care.
As time went on, new buds and shoots continued to appear. I could hardly recognize myself! I had new life! I had the hope of a future! I could barely believe it!
The Master of the garden saw this and was pleased, there was life in this little tree. But, now that there was life it was the appropriate season to begin shaping and molding. He painfully pruned the branches that were overburdensome and sucking the nutrients away from the parts of me that needed nutrients. My pain was difficult, my trust in the Master wavered. Why would He coax me out of my hiding from the pain and hurt and mend that brokenness, only to hurt me Himself?
Little did I know, He knew better than I and had a plan. As time went on He continued to prune me. I grew and grew. And I no longer feared His shaping tools.
Foreign and new to me, buds formed on my branches. Flowers bloomed and fragrant aromas filled the garden. He was delighted!
Fruit! Fresh, sweet fruit! My once barren branches THRIVED under the Master’s hand. All along He saw the beautiful and majestic tree I was designed to be and the fruit that I would bare!
And, fully in keeping with 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, God is mightly using her to bring this same comfort to others so deeply wounded.
Abuse and betrayal occur in relationships; healing and hope are found in Redemptive Relationships rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Abuse and betrayal are redeemable. After all; God brought redemption into the world through abuse and betrayal.
Soli Deo Gloria!
As America prepares to celebrate Independence Day, we need to remember that the people who gave us this holiday openly (and, thankfully) rebelled against and rejected the serial and unrelenting oppression they were victimized by for decades.
How is it that “the church” so easily forgets that Jesus came to “set the captives [oppressed] free”?
As I’ve mentioned before, God speaks condemningly about oppression and oppressors 84 times! Why, then, do those who claim to speak for Him refuse to follow His mandate to intervene and put a stop to it when it is happening among their own congregations?
Today, in honor of Independence Day and with permission of the author, I am sharing another letter from another adopted-daughter of The Most High who escaped her oppressor in spite of Christ’s Under-Shepherds who failed at their obligations…
Over these past years since I learned my marriage was an illusion I have had to heal both from the trauma of the profound betrayal by my ex-husband, and also from kindly-spoken words by many close to me in my church community who took an indifferent stance toward the rightness and the wrongness of what had actually happened. I heard, “We’re not on either side. We’re on the side of the marriage.” “I’m not taking sides. I have sin issues too.” “We’re not taking sides. I will support you and my husband will support your husband.”
Each instance of hearing these words from beloved friends and Christ-followers dealt a blow so harsh to me that I remember every detail about the conversation. There was a victim and a perpetrator in my marriage. A crime was committed and it continued for years. The collateral damage was great. And yet, Christians could respond as though this was simply another case of marriage being difficult and no one really being right or wrong. I lived the pain of these words of indifference many times over.
My Biblically-oriented church was inept at counseling us. Since I was desperate to save my marriage, and my ex-husband would settle for nothing less than keeping a toehold in his sin patterns, I was the one expected to acquiesce, accept empty words as evidence of repentance and change. This attitude taught by pastors inevitably influences those hearing their teaching. I too used to take a black and white attitude toward divorce and always believed there was something either party could do to save a marriage until I was confronted with my own situation in which I could do nothing outside of enabling sin to save my marriage.
One day I read God’s directive for what the church was to do in this instance. It is one of the clearest directives in the Bible. It’s right there in 1 Corinthians 5:11. “But I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality.” Read on. This is harsh in order to give the offender every reason to turn away from recurring sin patterns that lead to death. It’s why we would scream harshly at a child who was about to run in front of a moving car. The Lord wants us to take these ongoing sins that seriously.
This journey started five years ago for me. I have learned and grown in the Lord. He has taught me to listen to Him and to take no human’s teaching as accurate without checking it against the whole of His word. There is only one source of truth. I know the myth of God valuing marriage above human beings continues. It is not true. Friends and families and pastors who are misguided and continue to counsel for saving a marriage above all are doing tremendous damage to people who are already victimized. What needs to be done is to follow the Lord’s direction regarding the immoral within the church and to enforce church discipline “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:5).
When I read the following from Gary Thomas my soul was warmed by the truth of it.
May the Lord bless you in your service to Him.
Blessed Independence Day.
Speak out against oppression everywhere, and especially in the church!
Sioli Deo Gloria
With permission of the author, I am posting a piece of homework shared with me during our counseling together.
People say that “intent” matters. Perhaps.
In my experience, “effect” matters more.
See, we are unable to fully judge our own motives and intent. Oh, we can mature in our understanding, but the effect of that is usually seeing how tainted by narcissistic self-interest even the most basic of our motives can be.
I sit here daunted by the task of writing this letter.
How does one carefully and genuinely unhook the barbs of shame embedded in one’s soul without damaging the underlying tissue, the heart?
It’s as if over the past year someone has swung a blacklight over my brain and the studs of shame stand out stark and glowing. Signposts advertising that sin and abuse have lived there, grown and become comfortable. Developing deep root systems; small rumbles here and there belying their depth.
Time after time I’ve patted out the ripples, smoothed over the glinting barbs. Both consciously and not I’ve smothered them down in the dark out of habit, out of self-deception, self-preservation. Time and nature habitually worked their magic in the grooves of my grey matter. Thought pathways, synapses firing so second nature so deceptively normal, you would have thought I was born this broken way. Imprinted on my identity. Worthless.
The thing about shoving down pain and burying barbs is that they don’t dissolve and disappear. They fester. They build pressure and like a dormant volcano they bide their time to erupt through the fissures.
Swinging wildly between extremes, I found myself displaying daily, illogical anger to no purpose. A vague discontentment and unease colored even my happiest days. My patterns of thought and response continually turned darker. Whispers of worthlessness, stupidity, pointlessness. Emptiness.
I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. I sobbed. I pleaded. I self-medicated. I ignored. Most of all I practically thought myself to death. Shame shapeshifted from guilt to helplessness to hopelessness and then to apathy and deadness.
I’m writing this letter to disavow the shame I’ve taken in and owned as my own. This toxic shame is not mine to carry and so I begin to give it back to you. I’m shoving it all in a box and dropping it at your front door. At your failure to sign for this package I’m nailing it to that old rugged cross.
My earliest memories are tainted with inadequacy. I always failed to move you. Like waves breaking themselves over the seaside cliffs, I’ve broken myself against the walls around you. I’ve shattered myself trying to please you, interest you, captivate you.
You set yourself up as supreme ruler. You exercised such power over my day to day life and yet cared so little for my nurturing. It takes more than caring for a child’s physical needs to really love them. To see them and respect them as an individual.
I give you back the shame that seeped into me for being a girl, a child, a convert, a sexual being. I give you back the hours spent in lectures, tears ending in worry and insecurity. The nights spent crying myself to sleep- I give them to you. I give you back the inappropriate conversations, the weird sexual obsessions with pristine purity, the pressure to believe absolutely without doubts. I give you back the crushing weight to obey in mind, body and soul, to submit myself to ignore my instincts. I give back to you the shame of continually feeling like I couldn’t and wouldn’t add up. The sickness. The aches and pains of continually trying to fit a skin I wasn’t made for. I give you back the sideways glances, the harsh words and rebukes and outright glares. I give you back the haphazard criticisms and the resulting awkwardness.
You take back the shame of your overactive, sexual drive and obsessions you grew around your own barbs of shame and they have twisted your soul. You take back your unhealthy views of women and men, and smothering views of authority. You take back the shame and embarrassment that colored years of my life. Most of all you take back the shame you brought on me and yourself for invoking God’s name and sullying His words and intent. That millstone is tightening.
I will not carry this shame anymore. I cannot. It isn’t in my true nature and it is not who I am.
You see, I have a great Physician God. Yes, His words are sharp, yet they are life giving. They have done surgery on my brain and heart. His words are like a double-edged sword, able to separate soul from spirit. They do wound; but only to ultimately heal. They disinfect. They bring the dead to life. His words have rescued me from the pit.
Never in my life have I felt this way. My numbness is slowing receding and a tingling has started in my extremities. Until now I’ve never had the confidence to bask in my Father’s love; in the past, I’ve always looked for the catch, the trick, the reminder of my inferiority. I’m learning to bask and to feel at peace. Sometimes it feels like I’m learning an entirely new language. Exhilarating.
Let me tell you, coming back to life has not been easy; it doesn’t happen overnight. The work is long and slow. It takes time to rewire a brain and the embedded heart responses. It takes time to recognize and uncover shame in all its shapeshifting forms. I do have a soul helper and He is doing most of the heavy lifting. Mostly, my job is to rest in Him.
I’ve been created to be loved by God. I am worthy of His love despite my inadequacies; in spite of my sin and humanness. I know this because He has told me. He has created me anew in Christ Jesus and I am His masterpiece. He has good things planned for me and He has planted hope in my soul. Hope is tenacious. It clings and stretches and grows deep. It is almost frightening how I’ve wholly lashed myself to this Hope. It is the only path left to me. Now that I know my rightful place in this world, and I truly know it, down in my bones- I can now walk away from the lies. I can sing and praise without feeling like a fraud or like I don’t belong. Of course I belong: I’m a daughter of the King!
I can now sing with utter confidence the song forbidden as a child:
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”
Hopefully, this served to gently confront you with the truth in a way that will draw you closer and help reconcile you to Him – either as the harm-er or the harmed.
Soli Deo Gloria
by Jared C. Wilson
(NOTE: This is the kind of thing I have been praying for – no, BEGGING for – to see happen in the church for a VERY long time. His word-picture about the 3 doors parallels what I have often said: “When it comes to abuse, there is no ‘Switzerland’ – you either side with the abuser or the abused; there is no third choice.”)
Jason Meyer, pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, gave a powerful and important sermon this past Sunday.
In it, he defined things like “hyper-headship”:
Hyper-headship is a satanic distortion of male leadership, but it can fly under the radar of discernment because it is disguised as strong male leadership. Make no mistake—it is harsh, oppressive, and controlling. In other words, hyper-headship becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.
Meyer also addressed the issue of domestic abuse, highlighting three lessons in particular they had learned:
- Not all abuse cases are the same, even though they may share certain things in common. If you have seen one abuse case, you have seen one abuse case.
- We need to distinguish between two types of marital sinfulness: normative sinfulness and abusive sinfulness.
- There are spectrums and varieties of domestic abuse. A good working definition of domestic abuse is “a godless pattern of abusive behavior among spouses involving physical, psychological, and/or emotional means to exert and obtain power and control over a spouse for the achievement of selfish ends” (John Henderson).
Calling it a “draw-a-line-in-the-sand kind of moment” for the church, Meyer read a statement from the elders about domestic abuse:
We, the council of elders at Bethlehem Baptist Church, are resolved to root out all forms of domestic abuse (mental, emotional, physical, and sexual) in our midst. This destructive way of relating to a spouse is a satanic distortion of Christ-like male leadership because it defaces the depiction of Christ’s love for his bride. The shepherds of Bethlehem stand at the ready to protect the abused, call abusers to repentance, discipline the unrepentant, and hold up high the stunning picture of how much Christ loves his church.
The statement goes on to give information about whom to contact when abuse is occurring.
Meyer addressed abusers:
If you are an abuser, I call you right now to repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The only hope is on the other side of repentance—getting out of denial so you can own your sin. That is the only hope because if you confess it as sin, there is a sacrifice for sin. There is no sacrifice for denial.
He addressed victims:
If you are being abused, the bulletin gives information on next steps. Please let us help. God hates abuse, and so do we. We are committed to help. If you have come to us for help before and have been disappointed, please give us another chance. We believe that the tide of awareness has risen on all three campuses and that positive changes are happening.
And he addressed children:
If you are a child and have seen one of your parents abuse the other, it is not right, and it is not your fault. You are not to blame. We want to get you help as well. You may think telling someone will tear your family apart, but it may be the only thing that can bring your family back together. If you are a child and you are being abused, let us help. Don’t walk this road alone. Tell someone. Please tell the children’s pastor or your youth pastor or a Sunday school worker.
He then closed with an address to men in particular:
Men of Bethlehem, let me address you. I will lay it on the line. At first glance, it looks like there are three possible doors the men of this church can take.
- Door 1: side with the abusersm
- Door 2: take no side, or
- Door 3: side with the abused and stand up to the abusers.
If you are tempted to open Door 2, please know that it is a slide that just takes you to the same place as Door 1. Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching. Saying nothing is saying something—it’s saying, “Go ahead, we don’t care enough to do anything.”
For some resources on abuse, see Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s resources:
- Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault
- Rid of My Disgrace: Small Group Discussion Guide
- Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence
- God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies (forthcoming in September)
- Edward Welch, Living with an Angry Spouse: Help for Victims of Abuse
- David Powlison, Recovering from Child Abuse: Healing and Hope for Victims
- John Henderson, Abuse: Finding Hope in Christ
- Deepak Reju, On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church
- Paul Tripp, David Powlison, Ed Welch, Domestic Abuse: How to Help
- Diane Langberg, Bringing Christ to Abused Women: Learning to See and Respond