How Do We Handle a Domestic-Violence Husband Whose Restraining Order Is Expiring?

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Seeking wisdom and past experience, but am staying incognito to protect the innocent.

Our church has been dealing with a husband for more than a year who has repeatedly violated his domestic-violence probation and been arrested. He is very religious-sounding, the type who speaks of repentance to some, and of hatred of those who try to help to others. Continued unwillingness to follow court orders causes many of church council to be unconvinced of true repentance. The wife and children, who now live separately, are fearful, always, that he will someday kill them in his unpredictable rages.  The family is very involved in our CRC, and he cannot attend at all because of the restraining order. He continues to attend church functions which he knows his family will not be present.   He is the type who will come back to services as soon as the law allows, even though the wife and children would be terribly uncomfortable, no — "terrified" is the better word — with him in the sanctuary for worship. How has any church handled this? Not looking for advice from the inexperienced — I'm looking for churches WHO HAVE DONE SOMETHING.

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Participant

The risks of domestic violence are very real - many people die each year at the hand of an intimate partner. It can happen in your church. Rev. Al Miles, in the forward of his book, "Domestic Violence, What Every Pastor Needs to Know" begins with these words: "The monotony of a church board meeting was broken by a woman's screams and the sounds of a frantic scuffle in the next room. To their horror, the board discovered a highly respected church member being strangled by her husband ..." He goes on to describe how the church board members dragged the man away from his wife, and after a time of prayer, in which the man was repentant and promised never again to behave in such a way, the couple was sent home. The next morning the pastor received a call that the man had killed his wife; although she was in fact resuscitated by the paramedics. The church was split over what to do in response to the situation. It was a wake-up call to this church of the need to gain an understanding of the issue of relationship violence. This problem, though hidden, affects many people in our churches. The time to take action is now, rather than after the death of a church member. I’d encourage every church to be aware of local domestic violence resources, which can be very valuable in dealing with situations that arise. And sooner is always better than later to contact someone for help as the abuse tends to escalate over time. More information can be found on the Safe Church website (www.crcna.org/safechurch) and also here (www.theraveproject.com)

I was impressed with the actions of one church that I know of. Aware of several restraining/personal protection orders in effect between congregants, the council decided to hire a police officer on Sunday mornings to monitor the compliance of these orders – the officer is right there ready to arrest the non-compliant party. Council members are aware that they are to contact the police immediately, during other times, if any non-compliance is noted. Other churches, in slightly different situations, have worked out a written and signed covenant or agreement with parties involved so that they are never in the church at the same time. However, if one person is “terrified”, this may not be a viable option. Those who choose to abuse also often choose to deny, minimize, or rationalize their behavior. Safety and the needs of those who have been victimized must be maintained as the top priority. They should have the option to attend church without fear from those who have perpetrated abuse. That may mean that those who perpetrate abuse need to find a different church community, they are the ones to suffer the consequences of their actions, which have caused so much harm already.

The man needs professional long-term intervention; again the local domestic violence shelter may be able help point to the right kind of resources for him as well. One option would be to include the church address in the protection order so that the man may not be at church at all. It should be understood that the police will be notified of any violation of his order. Accountability is critical.

 

I've been informed that my anonymous postings are against policy, but considering that safety of the victims is paramount, and the seeking of options is so important, I will continue to post.  This issue surely exists elsewhere in our denomination, and there are so very many CRCs where that church is the only one in a community, and so "people" will know precisely who you're talking about. Yeah, I've played Dutch bingo all my life too. So I would implore anyone reading this and knowing of a church who has dealt with this situation, to post <strong>on behalf<strong> of those churches who have wisdom and experience but also want to also be sensitive to their congregants. 

In response to Bonnie N, this man IS receiving extensive anger management retraining, counseling by pastor, psychologists and psychiatrists, psychiatric evaluations, probation officer visits, and regular check-ins by the police.  The police consider the family to be at high-risk.  He continues to curry favor and sympathy from other church members who have not been involved from the initial arrest, and of course they are Christian and sympathetic, because don't we all want reconciliation?  He speaks to everyone about it, without reserve; she is so ashamed of him and the situation, so she doesn't--and then who gets the sympathy?  But the abuse has gone on for fifteen years before she reported it, and then after arrests, separation and a trial reunion, he continued to assault and violate probation orders.  He talks well--he knows what to say--but his actions speak otherwise.  But he genuinely still wants to be reinstated to the marriage and to the community.  Yet the family is terrorized. 

And so, the question remains:  What does ANY church community do with a situation like this?  It doesn't even matter if they are divorced or not--just being separated applies. Her family is far away in another state.  The church is her lifeline--we become her loving family who helps her and accepts her.  When the restraining order is over, he wants to come back to the church......  And just imagine that.... the man you are terrified of, who wants to come back to your home, to have a life together, who thinks of you as HIS, staring at you across the auditorium, or at the back of your head during worship....

Bonnie, those resources are good, but the best packet I've found is here:  http://www.restoredrelationships.org/resources/info/51/  .  It's from the UK, but is written so concisely, with tables and lists that are so very sensible.  And two pages addressing the helpful and non-helpful interpretations of key Biblical passages--so dear to our Calvinistic hearts....  Some pages aren't useful for North America because they are UK law, but the meat of the message is there in about 10 different pages of the 30 page packet.  Very absorbable by members because it's not such a wall of text like books can be. 

Participant

I'm glad that you are able to post anonymously in this place. (I actually don't play Dutch bingo well, not being Dutch and not having not been raised in the CRC). I agree with you that this issue is very important, and also that RestoredRelationships.org is a wonderful source for information. I hand out their "Ending Domestic Abuse: A Pack for Churches" quite often. It clearly describes the dynamics of domestic abuse, affirms that safety must remain a top priority, and includes lots of helpful tips for how churches can respond. I'm wondering how (or if) that has been recieved by the pastor, council members, or other church leaders.
 One note - anger management is not usually the best intervention in a domestic abuse situation, neither is individual or pastoral counseling. Group intervention in an accredited Batterer Intervention Program (BIP) has been shown to be most effective. The group aspect is extremely important, because those involved in group often begin to see the harm of their behavior in other group members first before they see it in themselves. Groups can also model and teach accountability and positive interaction in ways that other interventions cannot. Accredited BIPs usually include at least 52 weekly group meetings facilitated by specially trained professionals. Real change needs to be considered in terms of years rather than months. And accountability with an eye for safety must be maintained for a long, long time. In MI go to www.biscmi.org/ I think there may be links to programs in other places as well.

Professional organizations such as Batterer Intervention Programs and Domestic Violence Shelters and Service Agencies often have a good relationships with the court and criminal justice systems - these coordinated efforts are variable from place to place and are very valuable to a community. Faith communities need to be connected with them. No church should try to "go it alone" or "handle things in house" when domestic abuse is involved. The needs are usually too great, and the potential risks are way too high.

Well, I don't know what to think about the lack of experiences posted here.  Either it's too painful to write about, or few in the CRC have heard about any such occurrence, or maybe there's just not enough traffic on this site.  So many Christian books about dealing with domestic violence end with her getting away, but not about the scarred aftermath a year or more later, and the Christian community's response. 

So I went out looking for more advice online.  I had to look for "related sins," such as murder, rape, or child pornography.  Something where a crime was committed and the person (usually male) was either convicted or pleaded guilty, because it's got to be bad enough to make congregants sit up in horror and take notice, and struggle with the forgiveness and grace on one side, and the protection and safety on the other.  And while it's true any sin causes us to fall short of God's glory, some sins here on earth are just so big and horrid that the victim will always be horribly scarred.

So here are discussions I've found:

This article:  http://thewartburgwatch.com/2013/06/27/abusers-are-welcome-and-the-abuse...

The comments after this article are the most helpful, even though some make me wince a bit:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/2013/06/when-my-abuser-is-...

Interesting discussion here--the entire site is interesting (Managing Your Church), although most of the "safe church" info addresses protecting children:  http://blog.managingyourchurch.com/2009/09/handling_disruptive_people.html

and finally: Lord love these naive pastors!  I know men like this, and understand why they react with such profound wide-eyed disbelief of the abuse, and wide-eyed belief of the repentance.  And in their zeal to demonstrate God's forgiveness here on earth, overlook the silently suffering victim....http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shore/pastors-and-domestic-viol_b_858...

The above links are helpful, and demonstrate genuine Christian struggle with an intractable problem.  But again, I crave help from my brothers and sisters in the CRC.  Knowing how one of our own has dealt with the problem, using OUR church order, and getting help from OUR denomination would go far in knowing how to proceed in a Reformed fashion. 

Yours prayerfully,

Protecting  Victims

Participant

Hi again,

You point to some excellent resources. I'm glad that they are posted; and I hope that people will refer to them and gain insight into this serious issue. I think the lack of CRC response shows how hidden this problem is - we don't want to talk about it; and that isn't very helpful.

As I said in my first reply - the highest priority needs to be the safety of the family, and the needs of the one who has been victimized. It would be my recommendation that the one who has perpetrated the abuse find a different church community in which to worship; that the church property be included in the protection order so that the one who has abused is not able to be there. Safety must take precedence. And the one who has been victimized must now be empowered to make decisions that affect her and her family - she knows best what they've been through and what is needed. No one looking from the outside knows what she knows - she is able to make the most informed decisions, the role of the church is to support her in those decisions.  There are other places of worship for the one who has abused - it's his behavior that has prevented him from involvement in the church where the family attends.

When I was working as an intern at a domestic violence shelter - I was truly amazed at how many women went to their pastors for advice. I honestly never knew that pastors were so popular - they're the place people go for help. And I was also amazed at the bad advice given by well meaning, generally very good pastors, who had no understanding of domestic violence. I especially remember one client who came in with multiple bruises and abrasions and said to me "i went back because my pastor told me to - I was only doing what he said". The pastor had assured her that he had talked and prayed with her husband and that she needed to return to him. So, who is really responsible for those injuries?

We simply must be better informed; and bring this issue out into the light. I and many other Safe Church team members are willing and able to do educational programs in your church that could help everyone better understand the dynamics involved in abusive relationships so that we can respond more appropriately. Please don't hesitate to contact me or your Safe Church representative. It's why we're here.

Participant

I have several women that the Lord has connected me with that are involved in various abusive type situations within the Church, and if you want to get an idea on how that has fared so far, you can read my recent comment under the Pastors network in response to a post by James Dekker titled "of Rob Ford and Pastors".

to summarize, we have found that spiritual leaders are protecting each other, at the expense of the victim, and that abuse thrives in a culture of shame and silence/cover up... and this is a very sad witness to the Church.

anonymous aka protecting victims, feel free to contact me directly (I think you can do so through clicking on my name and there is a tab to email me)...  FYI, none of the situations in my experience deal with domestic abuse though, but would fall under other related type garbage.  In one of the situations, it has been going through the Church Order process, and so I have become familiar with the CO a bit through that particular situation.

Bev, the issues that the women you're working with are rough, no doubt.  Dealing with sins of church leadership is indeed a tough beast.  We can see this hairy situation in the Catholic church.

But that is not the situation in my church.  It's not about pornography, nor about church leaders protecting each others' backs.  Our council and pastor, though new to the type of situation, are doing well in supporting both parties appropriately.  This Forum is about Safe Church.  That is, Safe in Church.  And so there is upcoming conflict in the fact that the wife-beater (who has pled guilty) wants to eventually return to worship services, and the beaten wife and children won't dare be in the same building with him.  And so in that case, what is church leadership to do? 

I'm trying to find examples of what has worked, to see if there's any experienced wisdom out there. 

I could go on and on about what *I* think should be done, but that's just one person's opinion, backed up only by what *I* think is logical and scriptural.  So I'd rather depend on the communion of the saints, so to speak, since we are inexperienced in this.

There are very large questions or issues that could come from this, I realize that.  On degrees of sin; on how secret or public a sin is; on grace and mercy and forgiveness and shelter and compassion. 

What's a church to do?

To "protecting victims", I agree with Bonnie's comment above.   A truly repentant wife beater will respect and honor the desire of the wife and the church to maintain distance and he should seek another church.   While true repentance may eventually lead to reconciliation and change of behaviour, as it should in all cases of sin, in this case some clear evidence of change needs to be demonstrated.  That evidence would need to be a fairly significant time of distance apart, as well as other clear indications of a new life.   Taking the abuser out of his comfort zone would be the first step, and leaving the abused in control  would be important.  By significant time apart, away from the church grounds and away from the wife, I mean perhaps a year, before there is a re-evaluation.   In the case of a repeat offender as above, two years or more would likely be more appropriate, from the time of the last incident, and then only if elders are convinced he has become a new person.   This is not based on personal experience in our church, although I am well aware of some abuse cases within my circle of acquaintences.   It would be difficult to assess if the person has become new, with a new heart and new attitude, if he is an experienced liar,  so a variety of assessments should be made.   It would be difficult to shut the door entirely forever, since this would indicate that God doesn't have the power to restore, or mend, or heal.   On the other hand, the healing and mending and newness ought to be clear and evident, and the abused person needs to be comfortable with the decision.  

Now perhaps some others may weigh in.   We can not all operate in this out of experience, but need to be psychologically and intellectually prepared to deal with this if it happens and we are confronted with it. 

I continue to look for advice "out there" on the Internet, from established church denominations that are at least somewhat close to the CRC in perspective and interpretation of scripture. 

One of the links I posted before had its own link to a site called A Cry For Justice.  The posts I myself find particularly helpful are from the category "Supporting Victims".  And of those approximately 100 entries, this one is probably the most relevant and helpful to the question I keep asking on this forum. One eye-popping aspect of the post is that the author recanted her previous book thesis, after she had continued to work with abused women and to understand their abusers.  And she herself had been abused--twice--by husbands.  It just goes to show how very very difficult and mind-boggling this issue is--even victims are confused and conflicted about how to proceed, and searching the Bible for help can be so very hard.  Worth a read:  http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/church-discipline-an...

And still, I ask for help from churches, from MY denomination, who have dealt with a wife-beater, long-term.  I suppose you could always contact me privately under my alias up above in the left-hand corner.  I'm very good at keeping confidences, and Protecting Victims.

Yours prayerfully.

 

Participant

I believe that the article you sited is right on when it says that churches need to have a greater understanding of the issue of Domestic Violence in order to have a right response to it. The article states that:

"It’s vital that the church stop making wrong judgements in these cases. Reform is essential so that churches can

  • rightly discern the sin of domestic abuse
  • resist the abuser’s attempts to recruit them as allies
  • label the abuser as the sole cause of the marriage breakdown
  • not mutualize the problem or blame the victim"

The needed reform will not happen on it's own. People are needed who are willing to do the necessary change work. It begins with change in the hearts and minds of individuals. And change must also reach to different levels, to the church community, and to the structures that currently maintain the status quo. It's not easy work. It involves meeting people where they are, engaging them in dialog and action, clarifying what's true, etc. I can see that you are very concerned about this issue; and I'm curious about how you are working in your church (beyond this blog post) toward creating change.

Hi, I'm back.

I wanted to share this great sermon I found at http://cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/03/09/stop-offering-the-blessings-of-zion-to-children-of-the-devil/  .  It is from Sam Powell of the First Reformed Church of Yuba City, California.  The entire sermon is good from start to finish, really solid.  It clarified a lot of the things I'd been wondering about how to act toward this man in our church.  It's really worth a listen if you need wisdom on this topic.  I was so glad to find a Reformed perspective on the issue, solidly based in scripture (mostly Psalm 129, with references to Psalm 51).  Thank God for pastors who have the balls to call a spade a spade, and as he says in here "stop worrying about hurting the feelings of abusers."  It also makes me wonder how he knows this stuff, because the issue of abuse is so complex and most pastors are clueless. 

I was so impressed by this sermon, that I've transcribed the last 10 minutes or so.  It's really that good.  The entire sermon is worth listening to, because he gives historical context.  The transcription is below. 

---Protecting the Victims

partial transcription follows:

"

……Now I must be very careful here, for i am not saying that the blood of Christ is not strong enough to save certain people. God certainly can save anyone whom he chooses.  The blood of Christ can cover even the vilest offender.  But at the same time, we must remember that there are many passages of scripture that speak of those who God has devoted to destruction.

Those that have turned the truth of God into a lie; those who are so hardened in their sin that the only thing left of them is to be drowned at the bottom of the Red Sea by the power of God.

I understand that all men are sinful and in desperate need of Christ's blood.  I understand that as Christians we all still sin daily and hurt each other and need to seek forgiveness from one another.

But as I said before this Psalm isn't about that.  We know clearly from scripture and from the psalm that there are those from whom God has removed his hand.  Given them over to their lusts, and they are full-blown children of the devil. They are characterized, as Jesus said, by their relentless pursuit of murder and destruction.  Their actions show that they have no restraint.

These are the people we are dealing with, and when we are dealing with them, it is an abomination to God to bless them in the name of the Lord.  That's what this Psalm is talking about.

Our prayer should be that they be exposed and outcast, so that the whole world will see them for who they are.   And it's about time that the church stop worrying about hurting the feelings of abusers, and started speaking the truth.

For all of you who have suffered this kind of trauma in your past, you may have been told how harsh you have been toward your abuser. You may have been commanded to forgive them.  You may have been instructed to let them back into your life because they're really sorry now.  You may have been confronted by your abuser with tears, making demands for reconciliation and restoration.  You may even have forgiven them over and over and over again, only to be abused over and over and over again.

How can you be set free from this cycle?

Only by the truth.  Quit offering the blessings of Zion to the children of the devil.

How can you tell who is who?  How can you tell the difference between David and Haziel?

And this is the beauty of it:  you don't have to.  God knows who his people are.  You can leave that to Him.  God knows whom he has devoted to  destruction.
You can leave that to him.  

Here's a Psalm written thousands and thousands of years ago dealing with a very current problem.
There are people that seek to murder and destroy because they are children of the devil, and as long as you keep allowing them in your life, they will continue to murder and to destroy.

It is true that you must put off hatred and bitterness and desire for revenge, and the only way to do that is to leave the question of their salvation or their judgment in the hand of God, for he is perfectly capable of taking care of it.

If they are truly repentant, they will rejoice in their salvation, and they will understand the depth and depravity of their sin and therefore they will understand that their relationship with you has been forever broken.

One thing we read about in David's Psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, is that he made no demands.  He didn't demand that Uziah's family forgive him and accept him back into their membership and their love.  He made no demands.  He cast himself only on the mercy of God and sought to quit causing damage to those whom he damaged for so long.

How can you tell someone who's not truly repentant and simply lying?

They're still making demands.   I demand you forgive me.  I demand you let me back in.  I demand you restore the relationship.  They demand that their  wife not divorce them.  Marriage is for life. I can do what I want to and you can't divorce me. They're still liars, manipulators and murderers.

And if you refuse, they will accuse you of hard-heartedness.  They will get many gullible and naive people on their side, and they'll seek to manipulate you with their tears, and cause you as much grief and they  seeking to constrict you again, and to afflict you again.  The only way to be free of them is to leave them in God's hands.

Certain sins are covenant breaking sins.

When a man plows a helpless back as he would plow a field, just because he can, he has forfeited all right and all expectation of any relationship.  

And again, that break was not your fault.  He did it, not you.

The only way you can put away bitterness and wrath and desire for revenge, is to leave all those questions in God's hands.  You do not plot revenge, you do not live in anger, but you also do not bless them out of Zion.

The Judge of the earth will do right.

When you leave it all in God's hands, you can finally know the freedom that you have been given when God cut those cords from you.  

And now we can live like it.

Let's pray."

 

"