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Emotional Abuse in the Church

Filed in Marriage, Suffering by on October 14, 2013

Emotional Abuse in the Church

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, so let’s look at the type of domestic abuse most likely to be found within our church circles—emotional abuse. Even if you’re not being emotionally abused, according to studies, chances are that 1 out of 3 friends are.

Why Emotional Abuse is Found in the Church

This kind of abuse often remains hidden because of unhealthy, pendulum swinging views regarding the “place” of women in the home. When God created man and woman He put them side by side to take dominion together; each filling unique and important roles—but both created in His image and both of equal value and status within the family. They were both to rule, “being heirs together of the grace of life.” (I Peter 3:7)

In some families this healthy relational perspective gets twisted into a warped view of men and women where the woman is relegated to servant status and taught that to be considered an “obedient” and “good” wife, she needs to die to all her opinions, thoughts, desires, ideas, and autonomy in order to fulfill her husband’s desires, goals, and plans, regardless of what those are or how selfish they may be.

The twisted part about it is that rather than two people coming together with input, a sharing of ideas and opinions, a give and take, a mutual deference and respect that demonstrates maturity, love, and the ability to relate in a healthy way—what you have is one person putting an expectation on the other to meet all his needs, agree with all his opinions, do his bidding, overlook his faults, and basically do everything his way.

It becomes a coercive, bully relationship, and while there certainly are cases where the woman bullies the man, in Christian homes, because of the twisting of Scripture on this subject, often it is the man who assumes free license to control his wife, and all he needs to do to put her in her place is let her know she is being “unsubmissive” if she doesn’t.

Healthy Submission in Perspective

I think most of the readers here wouldn’t have an argument with the submission that God’s Word teaches. (Read a helpful overview of some of the misconceptions about submission over on the Girls Gone Wise blog.) I’m not speaking about normal husband-wife relationships where the husband is taking responsibility for his part, and the wife is taking responsibility for hers. If you are in a healthy marriage, be grateful to God for that grace, and recognize that this isn’t the case for many women.

This post is designed to reach out to those who are not in healthy relationships. Those women need to know that a husband who is not taking his responsibility to work toward loving and caring for them the way Christ loves the church is a husband that needs help.

Submission is important. But sometimes I wonder if the church focuses so much on getting all the women to “shape up” in response to the feminism that runs rampant in society—that it ignores God’s call to men to pursue Christ-likeness in their marriages.

My theory is that if more men were like Christ—more women would find it a joy to submit. And submission should be a joy when it finds its proper place under a God-ward man.

Please understand me. I’m not supporting the view that a woman should only offer a supportive role when her husband is also doing his part. All Christians are to pursue lives of obedience to Christ regardless of the actions of those around them. (For more on this, try reading How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong by Leslie Vernick.)

I’m just making an observation that I think has a Biblical foundation. Christ initiates with us. We respond to Him. This is the way God designed it to work, and it is a beautiful thing when it’s done right.

Resource Links

If you have a hunch you are in a family where there is emotional abuse, I want to point you to some resources:

  1. FAQs About Emotional Abuse.
  2. Downloadable articles on many different aspects of domestic abuse, including emotional abuse. These would be helpful if you know someone who may be in this situation, and you’d like to know how you can help them.
  3. A Cry for Justice: a website dedicated to helping the Church recognize and address abuse.
  4. A video for helpers: Five Common Mistakes People Helpers Make.
  5. A song about emotionally abused women called Abigail’s Dream. (Can help the rest of us understand what these women are going through a little better.)
  6. A Focus on the Family interview with Leslie Vernick called Finding Freedom from Destructive Relationships. Helpful information for any kind of destructive relationship.

If you know of other resources, please let us know in the comments section.

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About the Contributor

Natalie Klejwa is a Wemmick, loved by the Woodcarver, wife of 22 years to Joe, and mother to 9 Wemmicks ages 2-20. She is a business owner (Apple Valley Natural Soap), founder and administrator of the Visionary Womanhood blog, publisher and contributing author of Three Decades of Fertility, and a contributing author of The Heart of Simplicity: Foundations for Christian Homemaking and You Can Do It Too: 25 Homeschool Families Share Their Stories. You can hear her being interviewed on Kevin Swanson's Generations with Vision radio program. Follow Natalie on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google +. View all posts by Natalie →

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  1. Good Stuff For Your Weekend | | October 30, 2013
  1. I have so many mixed feelings about this because in my experience that *women* have perpetuated this twisted view of submission more than men. But to express this view has brought with it accusations of “victim blaming”. Which is not my intent at all. But I would credit the women in my life with trying to bind this on me more than the men.
    Joanne Mitchell recently posted…Pumpkin Babies 2013My Profile

    • I really agree with you, Joanne. Women do perpetuate this among one another, and I don’t think to admit that is victim blaming at all – it is actually recognizing a very real part of the problem. Until we see where these lies originate from and where enabling of abuse is encouraged – including among ourselves as women, we won’t be able to eradicate them from our church. And until they are eradicated, women will continue to suffer unnecessarily – in the name of Christianity. This is not Christianity, and it does not reflect God’s intent or heart toward women. Thank you for your comment – it was an important observation.
      Natalie Klejwa recently posted…Emotional Abuse in the ChurchMy Profile

  2. (big sigh of relief that my comment was taken in the spirit in which it was intended) Being the deeply flawed Wemmick that I am, I totally swung the other way and became the dominant (domineering?) force in our family (also very destructive!) but by God’s grace and our individual response to God’s will, my husband and I have found a better understanding of what godly marriage looks like and are making great strides!
    Joanne Mitchell recently posted…Day 7… Psalm 51:12My Profile