I am writing this as a plea, and I hope and pray that you will hear the cry of my heart.
I come to you on behalf of countless women who are suffering from destructive marriages.
Abuse comes in many forms and is not just defined by broken bones and bruises.
The Duluth Power and Control Wheel is one resource that reveals other forms of abuse.
Sarah McDugal created a chart with the 13 systems of abuse patterns.
The patterns/systems of abuse include child, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, pets and property, psychological, sexual, social, spiritual, verbal and a core mindset of power abuse and entitlement.
My first plea is that you become familiar with the patterns and systems of abuse.
You may read more here or listen here.
Reportedly, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse.
This number does not account for unreported cases.
This number does not account for other forms of abuse.
Based upon my personal experience and the hundreds of women that I encounter daily, my gut tells me that 50-75% of women within faith communities are experiencing multiple forms of abuse on a regular basis.
These women read your books, blogs, and social media posts.
These women listen to your podcasts and sermons.
These women have endured years, even decades, of heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing abuse.
Some are aware that they are being abused, and many are not yet aware.
We can no longer say, “But my message was directed at healthy couples.”
Many marriages are not healthy.
Most women who are seeking out help are not in healthy marriages and the messages they hear cause more harm.
When you speak on these topics and do not include a warning about abuse, these women feel blamed, shamed and responsible for the abuse they are enduring.
My second plea is to add a heartfelt, informed disclaimer each time you address relationships, marriage, sex, and divorce.
Please include information about consent, safety, equality, and mutuality.
Please educate yourselves and others about the patterns and systems of abuse and direct your readers and listeners to resources that will help them to be safe and well.
Please refer abuse victims to trauma-informed and abuse-informed therapists, domestic violence shelters and law enforcement agencies.
Abuse within faith communities is epidemic.
This is not a new problem, but there is a tidal wave of survivors who are stepping out and speaking up.
As one story is shared, it gives others courage to come forward.
For generations, abuse has been covered up within homes, churches, and institutions.
The tide has turned, and survivors and advocates are saying “Enough is enough.”
Will you join me and other survivors, helpers, advocates, counselors, authors, and leaders who are taking a stand against this evil?
We are unlearning and relearning, every single day.
We are realizing that many things we have believed, spoken and written have brought more harm to those who were seeking healing.
We invite you to join us as we seek ways to help and heal the masses who are showing up at our doorsteps, our computer screens and in our coaching sessions.
We now know better, so we must do better.
Ladies, join us at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse.
The Held & Healed Podcast is a resource filled with resources and I have interviewed some powerful men and women who love God and love others and are speaking out on behalf of survivors.
Thank you for your time and consideration, I invite the opportunity to learn and grow with you.
A Survivor and Advocate
In case you are not familiar with it, here goes.
“One day a man was walking along a beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son, the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.””
Every day, I find myself walking along a figurative beach.
The tide has gone out, and countless starfish are lying on the beach, wasting away.
Every day, I meet and interact with women online.
They are wasting away.
They have endured years, even decades, of abuse at home and at church.
They have no idea how beautiful, precious, and cherished they are.
Every day, I also encounter opposition.
Those who say things like, “No marriage it perfect,” “It takes two,” “She should just…”
I am here to say, “NO MORE.”
We are way past that.
There is evidence that shows us that (reportedly) one in three women are subject to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
This does not account for unreported cases.
This does not account for the masses of women who are enduring horrific emotional, financial, intellectual, psychological, social, spiritual, and verbal abuse.
The days of sticking our heads in the sand and pretending this epidemic doesn’t exist are gone.
There are many voices raising awareness and we can no longer pretend that most marriages are safe and healthy.
I choose to spend my days, walking the beaches of online conversations, picking up starfish and throwing them into the water.
This epidemic is especially deadly within conservative, fundamental, evangelical church circles.
Most of the starfish I interact with have been raised in a church culture that tells them they must submit more, pray more, forgive more, and give their husbands sex more to stop the abuse and adultery.
Most of these starfish are blamed and shamed for their husbands’ sins while the men are not addressed.
Beautiful, gifted starfish are being removed from their places of ministry while their husbands are slapped on the wrists (in some situations, they are sat down for a few months, but usually they are reinstated without therapy or treatment for their addictions and behaviors).
I am crying out for more starfish throwers.
Will you join me?
Will you commit to learning about the realities of trauma and abuse, and will you pick up one starfish and throw her back into the sea?
In 2021, I earned a certification as a survivor advocate and that lit a fire in my soul.
Once the lights turned on for me, I wanted to flip every switch and bring light to other survivors.
Since that time, I have formed support groups for starfish and starfish throwers, and we are taking a stand against the evil that almost destroyed us.
We are walking along the seashore and looking for other starfish who desperately need life-giving water.
I long for every book, blog, podcast, sermon, etc. that covers topics such as relationships, marriage, divorce, and sex to include information about the patterns/systems of abuse.
I long for them to include information about consent, safely, equality, and mutuality.
When one in three women have reported being physically and/or sexually abused and countless others have not reported and/or are experiencing emotional, financial, intellectual, psychological, social, spiritual, and verbal abuse we must change the way we approach these topics.
Every week, in every church, there are women who are hearing messages that that are crushing their souls and sucking life from their lungs.
Please stop saying, “But that book was written for healthy marriages,” when it is highly likely that more women who are in destructive relationships will read the book and feel shamed, blamed, and responsible for the abuse they are enduring.
"You’re too sensitive,” is another common response when an advocate speaks up on behalf of a harmful source.
I am deeply concerned for the women who believe that if they just pray harder, put on more makeup, lose weight and cook gourmet meals their husbands will become faithful, kind and loving.
One dear starfish endured decades of abuse, serial adultery and was debilitated by chronic illness.
At the point of her deepest need, unsure if she would live or die, her abuser abandoned her.
The church chose the abuser over the victim and promoted him in leadership.
Sadly, her story is not uncommon, it is one I hear often.
I am calling out, screaming, yelling, pleading…will you be a starfish thrower?
Would you be willing to learn about abuse and trauma and how to help and not further harm the precious star fish around you?
Are you willing to ask a trauma-informed, abuse-informed survivor or advocate to help you write posts, sermons or books that will offer hope and healing, rather than bring further harm?
Are willing to remove books from your personal and church libraries that are filled with toxic teachings?
Are willing to open your heart, home, and wallet to help support women who are escaping destructive relationships?
My guess is that 50-75% of women in conservative church cultures are enduring one or many forms of abuse.
Your mother, your sister, your neighbor, your friend may be need life-saving intervention.
Will you hear her?
One of my greatest joys is connecting resources to needs.
am connected to a powerful network of star fish throwers and together we are bringing awareness, educating, equipping, and encouraging survivors.
Will you join us?
Ladies, you are welcome to join us at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse.
Survivors, helpers, and leaders, join us at the Safer Spaces Summit where we will share statistics, survivor stories, and offer solutions for addressing abuse within faith communities.
I know that you are weary and worn.
You have tried and tried.
You have done everything that your friends, family, and church has told you to do.
You’ve forgiven, submitted, prayed, served, cried, and waited.
There may be moments or teasers of change, but underneath it all, you know his heart is the same.
He is one person in public and another person in private.
He charms others, and yet the words he uses with you cut like a knife.
He serves others with a smile but when you ask for his help with the house or the kids, the look he shoots you sends shivers up your spine.
Regardless of how he treats you, he still expects you to be available to him whenever he wants to have sex.
You know there will be hell to pay if you do not give in, so you lay there and take it.
You feel your spirit fade a little more each time he treats you like a prostitute.
You know he’s addicted to porn, and you feel that his addiction is somehow you fault and your responsibility to fix.
He’s known in the community as a stand-up guy.
His co-workers like him.
The neighbors like him.
Your family would pick him over you any day.
Other women tell you how lucky you are to have him as your husband, one even told you that she “adores” him.
The pastor is his best bud.
He holds a position of leadership in the church, and you feel sick every time he steps up to the podium or straps on his guitar to lead worship.
You’ve gone to the church leaders for help, and they end up siding with him.
Somehow, according to them, his abuse and adultery are your fault.
You need to forgive more.
You need to pray more.
You need to submit more.
You need to nag less.
You need to give him more sex.
Dear one, I am here to say that none of this is your fault and none of those things will change him.
You are beautiful, brave, strong, and kind.
God loves you and He wants you to be safe and well.
God loves you, a person, more than He loves your marriage (an institution).
Abuse is so much more than broken bones and bruises (there are thirteen different patters/systems of abuse and they are all vile in God’s eyes).
If you are in an abusive marriage, marriage counseling is unwise, unsafe and unethical.
God sees all, hears all and knows all.
You do not have to prove to Him that you have been abused.
You are worthy of love, safety, honor, respect, and fidelity.
You story matters.
We invite you to join our community at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse.
If you are ready to dive deeper and explore the truths shared here, along with many others, I invite you to join our next session of Twelve Truths Groups Coaching.
Learn more here.
You are not alone.
We see you.
We hear you.
We believe you.
I will begin by saying that I love God and have accepted salvation through Jesus and want to live each day representing His love and being His hands, feet, and heart to the those around me.
I write on behalf of women who are victims of abuse, so my pronouns will be she (victim) and he (abuser), but I understand that women can be abusers and men can be victims as well.
I am not a church hater nor a man hater.
I am an abuser hater.
Abuse is happening in churches every day.
Reportedly, one in three women are victims of physical abuse by their intimate partners.
Countless women are experiencing other forms of abuse as well.
I hear stories each week that break my heart.
Most of the women that I hear from are devoted Christians and are or have been members or regular attenders of church.
There are thirteen patterns/systems of abuse: child, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, pets and property, physical, psychological, sexual, social, spiritual, and verbal. These patterns revolve around the thirteenth one, which is a core mindset of power abuse and entitlement. (For examples of each system, go here.)
Statistically speaking, at least one in three women who are in your church are experiencing physical abuse.
But, my heart and my experience tells me that MANY MORE are experiencing other forms of abuse and do not have visible marks to prove it.
Abuse is so much more than broken bones and bruises.
When these patterns of abuse are in play, marriage counseling is unwise, unsafe and unethical.
Most abusers are master manipulators and their personal and public personas are very different.
Whatever is shared in a session will put the victim in physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual danger.
It is vital for individuals to pursue counseling with professionals who are domestic violence-informed/trauma-informed.
God loves people more than He loves marriage (an institution).
He loves His daughters and wants them to be safe and well.
If a loving father hears that his daughter is being beaten, hit, cussed, cursed, threatened, lied to or cheated on, he will do anything and everything he could to help her find safety and healing.
He would welcome her home, provide her with resources and assure her that she deserves to be loved and honored.
God is the perfect, heavenly Father who sees, hears, and knows all.
If an earthly father would protect and care for his daughter, WHY WOULD WE TELL WOMEN THAT GOD EXPECTS THEM TO ENDURE ABUSE?
It makes no sense.
And yet, far too often, churches tell women that they must return to danger, submit more, forgive more, pray more, nag less and give more sex.
Jesus called wolves “wolves” and told us to have nothing to do with them, but many churches tell women to go home and sleep with them.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
There is an epidemic of abuse and conservative, fundamental church cultures are place where abusers feel safe hanging out.
Far too many churches welcome abusers (wolves) and shun abuse survivors.
Many survivors no longer attend traditional church because they do not feel safe.
They have been shamed and blamed for their abusers’ sins.
They are finding their voices and linking arms with other survivors and a church without walls is offering healing, resources, community, and tangible help.
Online support groups, local meetups, and retreats are bringing hope to the hurting.
I am using my voice to speak out on behalf of my survivor sisters.
Many of us desire to be a part of a safe, loving church community but when we bring our concerns to leaders, we are dismissed, shamed, blamed, argued with, and met with great opposition.
Would you be willing to look at resources and ministries that exist to equip and empower churches in this fight?
Twenty years ago, there were limited resources for equipping and empowering churches and other institutions to recognize and confront abuse.
Now, they exist, and I would be honored to send you information.
I love God and I love the model of Acts 2 church.
My hope and prayer is that the broken and battered lambs will find refuge under the care of safe shepherds, and protection from the wolves that seek to devour and destroy them.
Ladies, if you are a survivor or someone who is caring for survivors, please join us on Facebook at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse. This is group of over 800 women and I have shared thousands of resources that will help you on your healing journey.
Remember the dramatic, solemn, forsaken scene where she pretends to be the Lady of Shalot?
She rested inside a wooden canoe and was sent out to her watery grave.
500 survivors gathered to spend a weekend releasing, growing, learning, connecting and networking.
Some of us had the opportunity to go a boat tour and release lanterns.
The lanterns represented anything we wanted to let go of.
The mood was somber.
These precious souls are warriors and the battles they have endured have been brutal.
We carefully dropped the delicate vessels into the water.
Tears steamed down many faces as we sang a verse of a cherished hymn.
We sat in reflective silence.
As we began our trek back to the dock, we noticed several high schoolers who were taking prom photos at the lake’s edge.
They noticed us, too.
One young man yelled out, “PARTY BARGE!”
The entire atmosphere shifted.
Tears turned to laughter.
I blurted out, “If only they knew!”
Then, I caught myself and declared, “We’re BECOMING a party barge!”
Surely, He is turning our mourning into dancing!
He is trading our ashes for beauty!
“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Psalm 126:5
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!