Here is a very sad letter sent to me and printed with permission. Whenever I speak about Jesus Creed, I make a big point that loving God and loving others begins at home — with husbands and wives, parents and children, and that every biblical command must begin with love of God and others to gain its proper orientation. Here is a letter from a woman who has been abused by her husband who abused not only her but biblical teachings. This post is my contribution to the IDFEVAW and I encourage you to sign.
I was brought up in a fundamentalist denomination by traditional parents who respected each other. I attended university, received a master’s degree in and became a teacher. I did not work when our children were young but now I work full time, have time for the children and take care of the family finances, banking and taxes. I am the kind of person who can help you with your taxes or computer problems. I can deal with technical problems but I was not equipped to take care of myself.
In my upbringing I was influenced to believe that a woman should have an education but she must also get married and once married she should never divorce. This was not acceptable in the Christian community.
I became engaged to a young Christian man who wanted to beome a minister. This seemed to be the right direction for me also and I felt we had a lot in common. We married after we were done with college.
My husband made it clear that he wanted me to obey him from the first. There were many reasons why I thought at the time that this was acceptable, after all it was in the marriage vows. Our goals seemed so unified that I thought this would never be a problem. It seems hard to believe now.
After our marriage we both found good jobs. For several reasons we never did enter into the ministry. However, we were always committed church members.
Soon after our marriage it became clear that I was expected to obey anything and everything, commands clearly expressed and those poorly expressed, and those that had never been expressed.
For 25 years I was hit – battered, bruised and humiliated on a weekly basis, held against my will, berated and sworn at. I have been called every filthy name in the book. But I was only once bruised on the face. After that it was on the upper arms and legs. I was knocked over, kicked and shoved in front of the children, and kept in a room against my will while I was made to listen to hours of lectures on my insubordination, and threatened with worse violence.
We managed to have two children and for many years I stayed at home with the children. I used to pray that my husband would be away on business when it was time for the children’s birthday parties so he could not ruin them.
He made life miserable for us all but he never did hit the children. If he found them doing something wrong I would immediately say that I had allowed them to do it, or I had even told them to do it. I stood there and deflected his violence for years. I would make him angry at me so he would hit me and leave the children alone. Of course, the children have been witness to some very violent scenes. He would also routinely lecture them for hours. I could not stop this.
For many years I had been moving in the direction of depression and mental disassociation. Fortunately, I continued to read academic literature on social justice issues relating to race and poverty. At a certain point I became convinced that God did not intend one set of human beings to be permanently subordinate to another, I came to see my own circumstances in this light. I inwardly denounced my own subordination as wrong, and believed that God intended me to function as an equal. Althought this flew in the face of the teaching in my church, I began to move towards hope and survival.
When I finally started considering divorce, I was afraid that he would get joint custody. I could not bear the thought of the children being with him and my not being there so I decided to stay with my husband until they grew up. A few years ago, through police intervention, the physical violence was brought to an end.
However, the threats and psychological abuse, the desire to subordinate me have continued. My husband fed off every mention in the church of the submission of women. He routinely pointed out that I was not submissive. I was not, but I was faithful and carried out the responsibilities of my job and family the best I could. Eventually every vociferous denial of my own subordination brought a measure of relief from abuse, and replaced it with distance, in this case, a life-saving distance. I came to realize that my original tacit acceptance of subordination had enabled the abuse.
I was intensely loyal and for 30 years, from the time of our engagement up until a few months ago, I never told one person about the abuse. I made excuses and covered up. I was unwavering in my loyalty and fidelity. I finally realized that when the children leave home, which is very soon, I will be left in the house alone with a person I am afraid to be alone with.
I recognize that violence is a pathology and not the result of wrong teaching. However, the teaching of submission and loyalty was impressed on me every day to keep the blame in my court and keep me silent. I was told by my husband that if I told anyone about something that was private between us, he meant the abuse, that was the same as infidelity and I would be punished for it.
I have just started taking the first practical steps toward getting out now. Now I have to deal with the fact that in law I am equally responible for our financial situation and debts. I am equally responsible for what has happened to our children. I am responsible for dealing with my own pension issues. I have equal responsibliblity for making decisions about our house and belongings, and the children’s future. I can’t tell the lawyer that my husband is the ‘head’. She can’t pass that on to the court. I can’t plead diminished responsibility on the basis of Bible texts.
I believe that no one should ever preach submission or let the word cross their lips unless they have lived 24/7 in subordination to another imperfect human being. Men speak glibly of women accepting limits, do they have any idea?
I write this to let people know of the secret and unpublicized nature of this problem in the Christian community. I asked the pastor’s wife for a book on spousal abuse ‘to pass on the a friend’ and she said she didn’t know of one off hand. No one who knows me in our church has any idea that this is who I am. But Christians need to know that the teaching of submission was a part of what has kept me in bondage to a serious pathology – violence.