Bethlehem Baptist Church, Domestic Violence, Emotional Abuse, Excommunication, Spiritual Abuse
Over a year ago (November 1, 2016), I posted the article, 1-1/2 years Later, Bethlehem Baptist Church Doesn’t Seem to get Domestic Violence: A Personal Story. I have a followup to that article.
For those who have never read the story, I will repost most of the article here, and then will catch you up on new developments.
1-1/2 years Later, Bethlehem Baptist Church Doesn’t Seem to get Domestic Violence: A Personal Story
Nov. 1, 2016
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:
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.
New Development: November 2017
Last month, November 2017, Natalie was sent the following letter from Bethlehem Baptist Church:
November 16, 2017
This letter is to inform you that, as per your request for membership removal from Bethlehem Baptist Church, action was taken on October 29, 2017, at a regular quarterly business meeting of the members of Bethlehem Baptist Church to dismiss you from membership by reason of church discipline.
We love you Natalie and will continue to pray for you and your family.
Chuck Steddom, Lead Pastor
Bethlehem Baptist Church, south campus
You read that right. When Natalie came to the conclusion that the leadership at Bethlehem Baptist was not willing to truly support her, and instead wanted her to remain married to her emotionally abusive spouse, she left the church and requested they remove her from church membership. This letter was their response. Natalie was excommunicated from Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Wives are expected to remain married to their emotionally abusive spouses. You have to go through hoops to pass their test before they give you permission to make a decision like divorce. They did not live in her home to experience what she went through, yet sitting from their comfortable office chairs, they can make a decision to keep a family in harm’s way, in an emotional prison, or encourage them to move on and reject the evil that has perpetrated their lives.
Natalie is now in a safe place. She is divorced and is happy starting her new life.
Natalie posted these thoughts about receiving the excommunication letter:
The recent letter of excommunication from Bethlehem Baptist has me reflecting on those years of trying to get help.
When I stood up for myself, I was told I was over stepping.
When I fell apart I was told to consider whether or not I was operating out of the victim mentality or as a child of God.
I was told that my emails were too long and it took a long time to process them.
I was told to back off.
I was told I had him under a microscope.
When I forwarded educational articles on the subject of abuse, I was told to be cautious about the messages that I was getting from those articles.
I was given the message that, as a victim, I knew little. They were my “rescuers” and they knew best.
I was told what to do and when to do it, and if I didn’t do it their way, I was rebuked. Eventually they told me I was “not under their authority.”
When I finally said I appreciated their
“Help” but I was ready to move forward with some other options, I was told I made them feel bad for “firing” them.
In reality the victim knows more about her situation than anyone. Wise helpers listen and learn. They don’t control and dictate.
Despite the fact that leaders at Bethlehem Baptist Church had specialized training from domestic violence experts, I cannot encourage anyone to attend this church. The leaders at the Bethlehem Baptist Churches are ill-equipped to handle domestic violence. Their instructions can put women in harm’s way.
If you are a domestic violence survivor and currently in counseling at Bethlehem Baptist, and things have not improved on the on the home front, I encourage you to seek outside, even secular counsel. It is not God’s plan that any woman remain a prisoner in her own home with an evil tyrant.
If you need any help, Kathi and I have collected resources and are happy to help you find information in your area. Please do not hesitate to reach out. We know how difficult this is.