1-1/2 years Later, Bethlehem Baptist Church Doesn’t Seem to get Domestic Violence: A Personal Story

Bethlehem Baptist Church, Pastor Jason Meyer, Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse, Spiritual Abuse

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Pastor Jason Meyer, Bethlehem Baptist Church

Almost 1-1/2 years ago, I wrote an article about John Piper’s former church, Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC) regarding domestic violence, Encouraging Shift from Bethlehem Baptist Church Regarding Domestic Abuse and Care for Abused Women. Around that time, BBC pastor, Jason Meyer, preached a sermon and humbly expressed how he and his church had not handled domestic violence appropriately.

You can listen to the sermon or read the transcript here: Fooled by False Leadership

The following is the opening paragraph of the Elders’ Statement which was also released at the same time:

Elders’ Statement on Domestic Abuse
We, the council of elders at Bethlehem Baptist Church, are resolved to root out all forms of domestic abuse (mental, emotional, physical, and sexual) in our midst. This destructive way of relating to a spouse is a satanic distortion of Christ-like male leadership because it defaces the depiction of Christ’s love for his bride. The shepherds of Bethlehem stand at the ready to protect the abused, call abusers to repentance, discipline the unrepentant, and hold up high the stunning picture of how much Christ loves his church.

I was cautiously optimistic about the steps Bethlehem Baptist seemed to be taking. They brought in professionals to help them learn and understand domestic violence signs. They professed to want a heart to empathize with women who were harmed by domestic violence.

One domestic violence case was ongoing at that time. Natalie had reached out to the Bethlehem Baptist leaders for help years earlier. But now, the church leadership was doing a complete overhaul in how they were going to counsel when there was abuse involved . . . . or so they implied.

One of the most destructive forms of abuse is emotional abuse. It’s destructive because it can go on for years. A wife (or husband) can get so beaten down by emotional abuse that she minimizes her own abuse, or blames herself for the abuse. When a woman finally understands what is happening to her and eventually reaches out for help, a lot of time has gone under the bridge. The very last thing she needs is to prove to her church leadership that she is being abused. But that is exactly what happens to so many survivors. The victim has to plead her case before her church leaders and is put on trial to see if the abuse she has claimed is in fact true.

It’s important to note that the church leaders at BBC were trained to understand about emotional abuse. Here is a quote from Pastor Meyer’s sermon from 1-1/2  years ago:

Emotional abuse is a pattern in the use of words and actions to assault, reorder, and control the emotions and affective state of the other person for the achievement of selfish ends. The more intense and longstanding the pattern, the more destructive it is to people.

So now, 1-1/2 years later, where is Natalie, and how has her case been handled?

I’ll let Natalie’s words speak for herself:

 

Full text:

Last night the elders of Bethlehem Baptist shared a few blatant lies along with some half-truths spun in context of those lies. They planted a few false ideas that never came up in my case (infidelity?) as well as left out pertinent information in order to flavor their testimony against me to the congregation. They did this publically and shamelessly. They murdered me last night in the eyes of many people who will never have access to the truth. I’ve been scared to death for years of what they could do to me. How they could ruin my life. But I’m pretty sure lying about me and shaming me is the worst they can do. What they’ve indirectly done to my children is the thing that really breaks my heart and pisses me off.

Are you my friend? You scared to stand with me? The BIG D for Divorce will be on my chest soon, and I’m the one who initiated it! Sinner Woman. Jezebel. The unforgiveable sin. I’m a pariah now. An outcast. All because I couldn’t gut out the hell of being married to my Ex for another 25 years.

I’m sick to death of living in fear of destructive men and organizations who control other people by using THE BIBLE. By claiming they have the radar on God while others don’t. They say I was not emotionally abused by my Ex for 24 years. Like they know. They call my story a “biased narrative” so they can minimize and dismiss it. They say I have no right to divorce him. They dismiss the 23 years I worked my butt off trying to fix my marriage, cooperate with all the men-leaders, be respectful, be vulnerable, grovel in sorrow and repentance, and obey – and when I finally say I can’t do it anymore – my kids need me, I need to heal, to focus on God, to move forward, they call me “resistant.” I needed and asked for friendship and love. They betrayed me with a smile on their face and a Bible verse on their lips. They use spiritual abuse to control women and children and even other men. This is reprehensible, and I will spend the rest of my life exposing it wherever I see it.

Call me angry. Call me rebellious. Call me a lunatic. Call me a bitch. Call me whatever you want. Spew out your venomous lies to serve your misogynistic agendas. My Creator calls me Beloved. He calls me Daughter, and I choose to believe and obey Him. No more groveling. No more apologies. I wanted to keep this private and protect my Ex and my church. But Bethlehem is just chomping at the bit to excommunicate me publically [sic]. Fine. You want to bring this to the public square? (And don’t drivel about how it’s “private” within the church. That’s a silly notion rooted in unreality.)

I dare you to show support. And if you can’t – you’re no real friend of mine and no real friend of women and children, in general. You’re only a cog in the well-oiled system of abuse. Be gone from me.

Yes. There’s a big, fat, deep line in the sand, and it’s time to rock and roll.

I think BBC leadership has forgotten what they were committed to do 1-1/2 years ago:

Remember the point of these passages in 2 Corinthians and the emphasis on deceit, disguise, and cunning. Abusers are not walking around wearing wife-beater shirts any more than Satan’s servants are going to carry pitchforks or have 666 tattooed on their foreheads. Abusers can be so charming around other people—that is part of the deception. Do you think they will really show their true colors in public? Don’t judge by appearances and discount what a woman says with flippant incredulity. Think about how much she is risking by saying anything at all. Take it seriously. Tell her that you believe her, that God hates abuse, and that you are committed to help her.

 

Yesterday, after reading Natalie’s post, I was angry about Bethlehem Baptist Church’s response to Natalie, and the many other cases of domestic violence I have heard and read. I tweeted the following:

 

 

Bethlehem Baptist Church, will never walk in Natalie’s shoes. They will never experience what she has experienced. They are re-victimizing again when they put blame on a survivor.

BBC, please stop the facade of helping domestic violence survivors. If a woman contacts you about domestic violence, tell her to notify authorities, refer her to outside domestic violence resources and outside counselors, and come alongside her in practical ways as she negotiates her new life away from her abusive husband. Let her call the shots on whether she wants to stay separated or divorce. If she divorces her abuser, support that decision. She is protecting her life and her children’s lives. Be the church that defends and protects the weak and oppressed.

164 comments on “1-1/2 years Later, Bethlehem Baptist Church Doesn’t Seem to get Domestic Violence: A Personal Story

  1. Calvin is confused about a lot of things, I think. For instance:

    When a spouse rants and raves, it feels awful. When a mate withdraws in silence for days, it feels awful. Now each will seek victim status.

    Is the withdrawal here meant to be a reaction to the ranting and raving?

    What is ‘victim status’? I think this is a huge issue, the idea that people this is a ‘status’ that one ‘obtains’. We don’t think this way about, say, robbery. A person stole from you, that is simply fact. A assaulted you, fact.

    I know I did not initially understand emotional abuse at all, from the lists I read of behaviors. They sound often like things anyone can do. It is only through reading much more on this topic that I began to see it in terms of patterns and control.

    Calvin, if he is at all sincere, should do much more reading on the topic. The idea that only children can be victims is just silly.

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  2. Calvin, Jesus yelled at the Pharisees and the Pharisees yelled at Jesus. Are you saying that Jesus was an abuser?

    You need to frame the entire discussion in that way. It is indeed possible that with two people, one is the abuser and one is the victim. Yet, because of broken theology in the church, like what you espouse, we say “it takes two to break a marriage”. So, when the victimized wife comes to the church, the church seeks to raise her sin to the level of her abusive husband. Again, returning to the framing, it is as if we look Jesus in the face and turn his yelling at the Pharisees into a sin that is of the level of the abuse he received. Did Jesus really die as a martyr, or did Jesus die because he was an insubordinate rejecter of legitimate church and civil authority? In the same sense, did the wife get hit/yelled at because she stood up for herself, or did it happen because she was insubordinate to her “godly authority” husband.

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  3. Julie Anne, thank you for your work on this site and your desire to help us care for the abused. If I may, I would like to respond:

    “… dismiss real emotional abuse. … don’t understand how damaging it is.”

    It is my desire to join with you and many others to address abuse in our families and everywhere it occurs. I am sorry to have used words so easily misunderstood. I care deeply about the issue and hope to learn much about abuse through your Spiritual Sounding Board.

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  4. Lea, thank you for considering what I said. I think we are misunderstanding one another.

    “Is the withdrawal here meant to be a reaction to the ranting and raving?”

    The sequence of the behaviors become impossible to determine over the years marital abuse occurs. Both spouses seek the status (advantage) of being hurt first, since this defines the other as a perpetrator, allowing license to what otherwise would be abusive behavior. Not only is the victim awarded a license to withdraw or rant, they also reap the social benefit of being looked upon sympathetically, while the perpetrator is condemned.

    “A assaulted you, fact.”

    One tenant of understanding emotional abuse, as I have understood from researching Barbara Roberts blogs, is that a victim must be believed and others should not judge or investigate the validity of their complaints. This rules out the collection of data by a third party. Abuses like “bank robbery” or “assault” are evident to all, where as emotional abuse as I described above, is hard to detect, especially in the fog of each spouse blaming the other. If abuse victims, as described above, allowed third party accountability, then perhaps “facts” would be more relevant. I approach this matter in the context of highly valuing the feelings and experiences of both spouses. In fact, perceptions are often more important than facts. How one feels is most important- as long as everyone is allowed to feel without being disregarded.

    “… I began to see it in terms of patterns and control.”

    Both the silent treatment and yelling become long term patterns perpetuated to control or exert power over the other mate. I see no abuse as justified. Being shut out or yelled at hurts whether you are labeled as an abuser or a victim.

    “The idea that only children can be victims is just silly.”

    What I am trying to suggest here, is parents have a choice when they rant or withdraw, where as children are truly innocent victims of their parents behavior.

    Finally, to restate. If we want to address one sided abuse, then we must be willing to talk about mutual abuse as well. If mutual abuse is not a thing, then ranting or withdrawal must be condoned as justified responses in the above scenarios. At this point genuine abuse loses because too often it looks a lot like the justified response.

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  5. Mark, thank you for reading my post and replying.

    I like the way you frame the conversation. Jesus is a bit of a paradox. In Isaiah, he does not open his mouth and is a lamb to the slaughter (Is 53.7). In Matthew he is flipping tables over and using pejoratives (Mt 21.12). If we look at the overall context of the gospels, Jesus is mostly asking us to reconsider how we think (Mk 1.15), by forgiving much and loving much (Lk 7.47).

    “…raise her sin to the level of her abusive husband.”

    I apologize for not conveying my thoughts clearly. I think all must be responsible for their own sin. Each one must give an account and each should reap as they have sown. No one’s’ sins should “rise” or fall based on the actions of another.

    “…did the wife get hit/yelled at because she stood up for herself…”

    In the scenario I painted, there were two mates, one ranted and the other was silent. I did not intend this to be interpreted as a wife standing up for herself. I tried to illustrate a marital conflict rooted in mutual abuse.

    My original post was seeking a deeper understanding on the concept of one sided abuse and the right of a victim to accuse their mate without any legitimate oversight. I am confused regarding who to blame if both claim abuse. If our rules protect the victim from accountability, then what rationale sustains denying this status to all who claim it?

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  6. The sequence of the behaviors become impossible to determine over the years marital abuse occurs.

    I disagree. I think in most cases it is quite clear. You don’t see it because you seem to want to make some sort of point about ‘mutual’ abuse, which is why you now have the children as the only victims.

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  7. Lea, I appreciate your insight here.

    Abuse is real, both emotional and physical. My question remains, is there such a thing as mutual abuse?

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  8. My question remains, is there such a thing as mutual abuse?

    My question remains, what is your purpose in asking?

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  9. Thought it might be helpful to add to the discussion this definition. This is from the blog Crying Out For Justice:

    The definition of abuse: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his (or her) target subordinated and under his control. This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.

    The definition of domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lea, I have two friends, whom I love dearly, both of their stories sound so similar. I am having difficulty determining who the real abuser is. They both feel hurt by the actions of the other and have now separated. They have a beautiful family and it is heart breaking to watch them go through this difficult period. They both tell me they have been emotionally abused. My purpose is to learn about “real emotional abuse” as Julie Anne mentioned so I can help my friends.

    Incidentally, how do you get those marvelous italics in your post?

    Thanks for your interest.

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  11. Avid Reader, I appreciate the definitions. I see one mate using intimidation by admitting to outbursts and I see the other controlling the relationship through days of withdrawal and silence. They both seem to be coercing the other to submit to their will. Their issues are over what appears to be minor grievances like who watches the kids, how the house work is done, and who works hardest to pay the bills. There is no physical abuse, no immorality, and both are hard workers. I just don’t know who to blame. I want to blame them both, but I don’t want to invalidate or minimize the real hurts they have experienced.

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  12. jc, I think there are situations like that, but they are very rare. I read an article that defined different types of narcissists and then talked about how they would interact on a first date. I’m sure in marriage, the gloves could come off.

    However, that is not what we’re talking about here. I think there are general principles and there are unique circumstances. The general principle that many of the people have seen is that a true victim of abuse walks into the church, and the church tends to choose one of many abusive roles. That can be sin-leveling (Yes, he beat you, but didn’t God call you to be a faithful wife, including making sure the dishes were clean?), victim blaming (Yes, he beat you, but surely you were doing something that made him angry enough to do that), reconciliation-at-all-costs (Okay, that was bad, but you’re called by God to forgive him and go back)…

    I think the point is that you start by believing the person in the room. The situation is going to unfold how it is going to unfold, and if it’s the abuser trying to use the church, or a mutual situation, I would like to think that a church that is devoted to the truth is going to uncover that, and if not, maybe they need to be protected from each other.

    I also want to mention co-dependency. The co-dependent person, yes, is trying to manipulate the abuser, but there is still a one-sided abuser/victim relationship. The co-dependent person does contribute to the abusive situation and could potentially appear manipulative as well.

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  13. jc, ” If we look at the overall context of the gospels, Jesus is mostly asking us to reconsider how we think (Mk 1.15), by forgiving much and loving much (Lk 7.47).”

    I disagree. Jesus is not a flat character. He is a real person with real likes and dislikes and a real personality. It is the evangelical church that tries to generalize Jesus, and even worse, tries to claim that Jesus’s strong emotions were really something reserved for God and his anointed leadership(TM) – anger, weeping, etc.

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  14. Mark, I agree that Jesus was a dynamic individual. But the theme of his stories centered on asking others to change their thinking and behavior regarding forgiveness and love. He also spoke much about faith, which relates to how we think and what we hope for. He also liked to talk about sin. Sin that is present in the abused and the abuser. In fact, as you indicated, in “rare situations” mutual abuse does exist. I think my mistake here is to define sin as abuse, but it is hard not to see sin as abusive. It is also hard for me to blame one mate and shame the other.

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