Ties That Bind

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One day, while flipping channels, I ran across one of those talk shows in which the show’s premise seemed harmless enough.  The host was acting as a type of intermediary with family members who were challenging each other’s spending habits.  One family was a married couple, in which the husband felt his wife was an overly indulgent spender, while the wife insisted that the husband was just miserly.

To garner which side of the couple was giving the more factual viewpoint, the show’s film crew followed them on a shopping trip, in which the wife attempted to purchase clothes and for their toddler-aged daughter.  Everything the wife tried to pick up and considered purchasing for their daughter was met with a profanity-laden mini-rant over the price of children’s clothing, from the husband.  His language had to be “bleeped” during that recorded segment. 

After showing/watching the footage, the show switched back to the in-studio section, as the host began to ask the wife about her husband’s behavior.  The host, acknowledging that the husband’s foul language and visible, public agitation at his wife was rather intense, said, “Why do you put up with that?”  The wife, with her head down, tearfully croaked out, “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Something changed in the atmosphere when the wife uttered those words and my heart broke for her.  In that instant, I saw this episode as less about spending and more about control.  As mentioned in previous Safe Church Network Blogs, domestic abuse is not always just physical.  Nowhere on that particular talk show episode was there the mention of domestic abuse.  Yet, something was definitely broken in that wife, not just in her voice and in her body language, but also in her spirit.  There was an indication of financial abuse. 

Recently, I was pleased to hear of Purple Purse (purplepurse.com).  Purple Purse is “…an initiative of The Allstate Foundation to financially empower domestic violence survivors.”  Purple Purse not only talks about domestic abuse, but it also recognizes how financially crippling it can be to those who are trying to escape from an abusive relationship.

So, what do we have in our churches to combat this same issue?  Are monies and resources from benevolent offerings and other assets set aside to help those who feel that they “…don’t have anywhere else to go”?  What are some safe and effective church policies for people trapped in such environments?

From purplepurse.com: “Most people think only of physical abuse when they consider domestic violence, yet financial abuse happens in 98% of all cases of domestic violence.  Domestic violence and financial abuse often go hand-in-hand, but nearly 8 in 10 Americans have not heard about financial abuse as a form of domestic violence.  The number one reason domestic violence survivors stay, leave or return to an abusive relationship is that they don’t have the financial resources to break free.”

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Community Builder

Thanks for this blog that helps us think about the impact of finances in the broader issue of relationship abuse. It's certainly one important barrier to leaving the relationship. There are many other barriers as well: it can be very dangerous to leave, many of the deaths attributed to relationship abuse happen when the one being victimized tries to leave. Also, "hope springs eternal". There are many positive things about the relationship in spite of abuse. There are the memories of a more loving time, the hope that the apologies and the promises that it will never happen again are true. And if children are involved that adds a whole new dynamic. It's not easy. It's good to think about the complexities of the issue, including the impact of finances. When we, as the church, truly understand the problem, we are better able to offer a helpful response. For another take on this theme see the following article from ReFrame Media: http://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/scandal-whyistayed-and-standing-a...

Participant

Thank you, Bonnie, for this thorough insight and this very helpful link.  What a stimulating blog that was, especially where it said, “We need to create generous space where we can listen to the stories of women who have been told by the church and its leaders that their Christian duty is to remain in an abusive relationship.”

You may be right, Robin... this was a tv show after all, and 'set up' for maximum effect.  The guy seems to be an idiot and heartless.  There is no excuse for the profanity.   But in reality, it is often not so simple.  What kind of store were they going to?  How did the prices compare to alternatives?  How many clothes did the child have already?  Were they wealthy, poor, or average in income?  I know many average families who really spend a lot of time making sure they stretch the dollar by buying on sales, sharing clothes, passing down or receiving barely worn stuff from others.  On the other hand, some people seem to need the latest, most expensive, most faddish stuff, even when they cannot really afford it.  What is sometimes called financial abuse is often a result of the couple not being on the same page for priorities in spending.  Sometimes the spender is the abuser (think of a compulsive gambler).  This is why financial counselling before marriage is so important, just as important as counselling about sharing time, sexual needs, and priorities and methods for raising children, life goals for career or recreational activities, and how to handle disagreements.  Finance is still the number one cause of marriage discordance, as far as I know, so it is important to be on the same page on that from the beginning.  

Community Builder

When my husband and I did pre-marital counseling, 36 years ago, we had a session on in-laws (you marry a family not just one person), we also had a session on finances to discover our differences around that issue. We had 4 other sessions, 6 in all. Our pastor was proud of the fact that over 50% of the couples he counseled broke off their engagement (better before than after you're married). But that's not what Robin's article is about. One session that was not covered in our premarital counseling was relationship abuse, how to recognize the signs, how to get help, etc. I wonder how many CRC pastors discuss relationship abuse in their premarital counseling? I wonder how many youth groups talk about dating violence? That's one thing that churches could do to prevent relationship abuse, which is what this blog post is about.

Participant

Interesting point and interesting questions, John, “What is sometimes called financial abuse is often a result of the couple not being on the same page for priorities in spending.”  Still, to see that woman so easily reduced to tears and to hear the desperation in her voice when she said “I don’t have anywhere else to go” indicated, to me, at least the possibility of a pattern of abusive behavior.  Now, easily, someone could counter, “maybe the wife was just a crier or overly emotional”.  That might be the case, but, I do not know if that mindset gives equal weight or room to places where there is, in fact, a problem.

I once heard an associate minister advise a wife that she and her husband needed to talk about their finances and to come to better joint-agreements on how to spend their money.  That sounds amicable enough, right?  But, what prompted this advice was the wife’s comment that she and her husband both worked forty hours a week, outside the home, and that she still had to ask him for lunch money, everyday, and that he would never give her more than $5.00 or $6.00.  So, as I listened to this associate minister assure this wife that everything would be solved with her and her husband just having the “money-talk”, I also heard the need for a deeper concern.  And, internally, I actually questioned how responsible it was for that licensed minister to throw a fix-all-talk-it-out solution at that wife, without first determining whether or not her husband had violent tendencies (the husband did not actually attend our church, so I do not know if the associate minister had ever even met him).

As another example, a former co-worker, who was also a church elder, was very proud of the fact that he provided well enough for his family that his wife did not have to work, outside the home, even saying, “I never wanted a working wife.”  Nothing unsettling at all about that, right?  However, I also noticed that whenever his wife or their teenaged daughter would do something that displeased him, he would remove all of the landline telephones from their home (this was in the early 90’s, before everyone had cellular phones), to “teach them a lesson”.  He would adamantly state, “I bought the phones, so I can take them out when I want”.  Again, that behavior seemed more about control, than about being a good provider.

So, John, I can agree with what I think is your stance that not every financial dispute is, at its core, financial abuse.  The point of this blog, however, was to open a dialogue in our churches to identify when it is, or, at least to ask deeper questions.

Participant

thanks for being willing to look deeper, Robin... control is a huge issue (probably most abuse is about control) -and the control will manifest financially in different ways, as well as in other areas.  Control is not only an issue in relationships, but also in the Church...  it can be so subtle and hard to see...  and one struggles with is it real or imagined (spiritual/emotional abuse v physical/sexual abuse)...  a comment from an article on church abuse...

BOQ... But in the many many months I have spent on studying abusive churches and abusive tactics, there is a very common theme and many common words that churches use that are a substitute for "control". EOQ

if you've experienced it, you can discern the control lingo that's been spiritualized (which becomes spiritual abuse)...  here's an example this same person uses in another comment and her take on it...  the quoted part of the following excerpt is from a church website:

BOQ..."Finally, we understand that we will encounter some very significant challenges that may require the services of an outside trained professional counselor. If necessary, we can refer people to a trusted professional who employs a gospel-centered counseling approach, and who will work together with our community to help shepherd hurting people." In other words. If we decide you do need counseling, it will be with someone who we decide is appropriate. I've been around the block on that. I understand the wording. EOQ

I am amazed at those who have been abused/manipulated by leaders in the Church, how they pick up on this type of "control" and perceive it much quicker than those who have not experienced such abuse and manipulation...  the statements of leaders looks good, sounds good, but there's something amiss and those who've been on the wrong end of it, recognize the loopholes in it, while those who are in leadership often do not...  and that's why discernment is such a needed gift for the Bride of Christ.  hope that makes sense!

 

 

 

 

Participant

I really appreciate your input, Bev!  You brought up a good point about leader abuse and spiritual abuse, within the church.  Those are some other issues we need to talk about, as well.  Additionally, your comments on perception and our pass experiences, “…if you've experienced it, you can discern the control lingo that's been spiritualized (which becomes spiritual abuse)...” were also very valuable.

Participant

bless your heart, Robin, for being willing to speak out here =) 

here's a comment I found while reading a blog last night...

BOQ...Financial security is usually an issue in abusive situations, especially if there are kids involved. ... - abusers usually control everything, including the finances. Threatening complete financial abandonment if not compliant, and dangling "carrots" like trips, jewelry, etc. Both manipulations designed to make her stay, and stay in the fog of confusion. EOQ

and there is a big difference between self control (fruit of the Spirit) and manipulative control (fruit of the enemy)...

 

Participant

And, bless your heart, Bev, for helping to shed more light on this issue.  You have really helped to enhance this blogpost and this conversation.  I should have asked you to co-write this with me!