Special thanks to Gayla Postma who sent this guest blog directly from the Safe Church Conference, held April 27 and 28 in Grand Rapids, Michigan:Sometimes you wonder if all the work we do for Safe Church is worthwhile. We slog away in meetings, we write safe church policies, we try to get our ministers to preach on safe church issues and abuse prevention. Some days, we wonder if it is even making a difference.
And then we hear a story like that of Nancy Boelens. Nancy told her story this morning at the Safe Church conference. Hers is a harrowing story of ongoing physical, mental, emotional, and sexual violence. Hers is a story of a church that completely failed her.
It’s the first time she has publicly told her story. Her narrative was punctuated with the poetry of Irene Fridsma.
Nancy grew up in the Christian Reformed Church. She married a man from her church and thought she was living the dream. And then the abuse started. Nancy tried to be an obedient wife, while living with the man who was sadistic, sarcastic, violent. The violence escalated during pregnancy. When she tried to speak to him about it, the response was: “You know I get angry. If you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” She never brought it up again.
She went to her church pastor, tried to explain what was happening. The pastor quoted scripture to her. You need to ask him what you can do. What are you doing to make him so mad? Learn what he needs.”
Silence Hides Violence
She went to her father-in-law for help. He stressed that divorce is a sin. When she filed for divorce, people in the church community heard about it, and they avoided her. People asked Nancy if she and her spouse had tried counseling. Some told her that all marriage is hard. Her husband started carrying around his Bible and made best friends with the pastor. People started calling her, telling her she needed to forgive and forget. The minister told her that if she was not open to reconciliation, she could not take communion. There was no grace for her. She was no longer allowed to teach Sunday school. She stopped the divorce proceedings, feeling that was God’s will.
The abuse started again, so for three years, she planned, got a job, prepared herself emotionally to escape. When she reached her breaking point, her husband committed himself to a mental hospital and the church supported him.
Silence Hides Violence
Her church community, our denomination, let her down, reinjured her. He got sympathy; she got nothing. She left her church community, felt estranged and felt ashamed. Now thirty years later, her husband still denies the truth and still talks ill of her, including to her grandchildren. He still meets the pastor for coffee several times a week.
Safe Church team members need to keep staying the course, keep helping churches become more proactive, keep encouraging pastors to include abuse prevention as a topic in pre-marital counseling. Churches need to continue to be the listening ear and source of help for those being abuse.
Because silence hides violence.