Sally’s story - Religion enslaves, Jesus frees.
I was angry with God when I left my abusive husband.
I was angry because I’d spent years praying that God would ‘fix’ his problems so he wouldn’t be abusive, that he’d restore my marriage. And he hadn’t answered that prayer.
I read “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”(Psalm 37:4) My heart’s desire was a normal happy family with a husband and Dad who loved us. It didn’t seem like that much to ask, it wasn’t as though I wanted my own island, or to be a movie star; I just wanted what most other women I know had. As far as I could see God had broken his promise to give me my heart’s desire if I loved him, which I did.
As I began to understand my situation better I grew angrier with God. I thought about why I’d put up with the abuse and I realised that I’d stayed for so long because of my beliefs. In fact I’d even married him because of them.
— Sally —
I felt if I wasn't a Christian I might well have told my husband to take a hike sooner. Looking back I may well have done, or it may well be that my husband would simply have found something else to manipulate to keep me in my place.
My husband would sit us both down to watch podcast sermons together which taught that men and women were “equal but different.” I was thrilled that he wanted to watch sermons and read the bible together and eagerly lapped up the opportunity for spiritual development as a family without a lot of questioning. When I read books about marriage or listened to sermons they recommended focusing on being the best spouse you could be, they talked about how we are to serve one another and in these acts of service we fulfil our marriage vows and deepen our relationship. I read that when you’re unhappy with your spouse you don’t give up on them or argue with them but instead look to yourself and be the best spouse you can be.
In a normal healthy marriage this is not bad advice but when applied to an abusive marriage it means that the victim ends up taking on more and more of the blame and the perpetrator is left to continue to abuse without being held accountable. Because we were listening to complementarian theology, for me being the best spouse I could meant being my husbands ‘helper’ supporting him to achieve his goals at the expense of my own, keeping the house how he wanted it to be kept, making sure he wasn’t stressed and was able to go out to work without having to worry about anything else, looking after the children alone. Of course when a good husband listens to complementarian theology he looks to his own role to make sure his wife’s needs are met, that her goals and dreams don’t go unfulfilled, that she is equally happy and supported in the relationship. However mine didn’t and my theology meant I left it for God to prompt him to take responsibility for my wellbeing, rather than me taking responsibility for my own. My understanding of a good Christian wife as self-sacrificing meant that my husband’s needs were consistently prioritised.
The same preachers who were used to teach me about my role as a good wife, about not arguing with, questioning or undermining my husband also preached from an exclusively Calvinist theology. Now I look back at my relationship I can see that however much God may have prompted my husband to love and cherish rather than abuse me he wasn’t about to remove his free will. However at the time free will never entered my thoughts. In my mind God would ‘reach down’ and rescue me from my husband and more importantly to me, my husband from himself.
A year on I look back and see that my religion did indeed enable the abuse. But God didn’t. I allowed my husband to influence my theology, to twist the word of God to make me believe his behaviour was not to be questioned. In addition I succumbed to the pressure of keeping up appearances of a nice Christian marriage at church, after all Christians don’t have marriage problems! This was entirely caused by theology, doctrine and dogma not something the Jesus I read about in the bible was very fond of.
— Sally —
The Jesus of the Bible was concerned with relationship. With healing. With love. In the last year I look back and see God’s hand on me throughout my marriage and in the healing process afterwards. God constantly reminded me that he loved me, that I was his child, his image bearer, and this protected my self esteem from the onslaught of put downs I endured. Most abuse victims end up with low self-esteem, God protected me from this. In the aftermath God put people in my path who would love and support me, who would offer the right words of wisdom at the right time and who would be able to offer the practical support I needed.
God has used my situation to strengthen me. Having met other Christian abuse victims I’ve both been supported and I hope been able to offer support to them. My relationships with my children have improved and perhaps most wonderfully I have felt the peace of God at every stage of this process, even when I asked my husband to leave I felt God’s peace in that decision. Every time I have needed it I have found words of encouragement in my bible, at church and often even on my Facebook news feed. God has encouraged me, supported me and loved me throughout my healing process, I don’t know where I would be without him.
It is true that my religion kept me in an abusive relationship but it wasn’t God who did this, nor was it God who caused my husband to abuse me. My relationship with God protected me, freed me and is healing me. Religion kept me trapped by abuse but God freed me from it
— Sally —