“Huge door-slamming, yelling fight”
Recently, Pastor Judah Smith of Churchome Church in Seattle, WA, posted an Instagram wishing his wife, Chelsea, a happy 20th anniversary and included words from his wife’s #MarriageMonday series” as quoted below:
Happy 20th Anniversary to my beautiful wife @chelseasmith. LOVE YOU FOREVER.
I absolutely love her weekly #MarriageMonday series so I thought I’d repost hers from this week.
#MarriageMonday | This is a special post, because tomorrow, November 5, Judah and I will have been married for TWENTY YEARS!!! First that makes me feel old, and I love getting older!! Second, I realize that this marriage is the hardest, most fulfilling thing that I have done with my life. I have cried more tears over this relationship than anything else in my life. This marriage has produced my three beautiful children and a church community I’m obsessed with. Last night we got into a huge door-slamming, yelling fight. Last week we had the most incredible sex. How can one entity produce the most extreme circumstances? LOVE. This is love. This is love for 20 years. There is beauty in the pain and pain in the beautiful. It’s what makes us human and makes us alive. I wouldn’t trade a single moment of these 20 years for anything else…these moments are the greatest story of my life. Happy Anniversary my love…I hope we keep having door-slamming fights and mind-blowing sex for 80 more years and 100 more lifetimes.Instagram Link
It is so, so important that church leaders have an understanding of who is in their audience.
In this day and age, posting personal happenings on social media is commonplace. However, not all personal happenings should be posted. Furthermore, as a church leader/pastor, it is so, so important that church leaders have an understanding of who is in their audience.
I was alarmed when I read about a “huge door-slamming, yelling fight” by Chelsea, written so flippantly. What does this message send to congregants and followers? My friend and domestic violence victim advocate and expert, Pastor Neil Schori, left a comment on the Instagram post:
Yes! Neil nails it – many victims will stay longer because they are looking to their leaders for cues on what is healthy or unhealthy in a marriage.
I reached out to Jeremiah Rice, a new friend I recently met on Twitter. He’s been in full-time ministry for 15 years and currently pastors a church in Minnesota. He also engages in the challenging and rewarding work of domestic violence intervention as a certified facilitator of the Duluth Model. I asked Jeremiah what he thought of the Instagram post and asked if he’d like to give me a statement. Boy, am I glad I did. Read his wise words:
I’m not familiar with Judah or Chelsea Smith or the ministry they lead. Yet, as someone who weekly confronts male batterers about the beliefs they hold – beliefs that enable them to abuse the woman in their life – this social media post is alarming. I have no way of knowing whether the Smith relationship is defined by domestic violence. I have no doubt that domestic violence victims are among those who sit in their congregation and subscribe to their social media.
Door slamming and yelling are red flags of domestic abuse. This post normalizes those behaviors. Women who view this post are now more likely to minimize the occurrence of abuse in their homes because “Oh, it happens to the pastor, too.” No! If a woman is EVER afraid of the man in her life, the relationship has been redefined as one of power and control rather than one of equality. This message is too important to risk the unintended consequences of normalization!
Neil is absolutely correct: 1 in 3 women have or will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. That is a huge number of women. Imagine gathering one in three women at your church and having them stand. What number would that represent? Now, think of the Instagram message being read to those specific survivors. What message would those women hear when they heard about the yelling and slamming doors? Would it tell them that yelling and slamming doors in anger is normal? Because listen . . . it’s not normal. That is an inappropriate way to express anger.
Now think about abusers or potential abusers in your church. Imagine what they would feel or think when hearing that message. Would they pat themselves on the back and think their abusive behavior is “cool” since the pastor and his wife just admitted they go off the rails like that?
Do I believe that Judah and Chelsea Smith have an abusive marriage? Is that what this is all about? No, not at all. This post is to encourage pastors to think carefully about what they post online and what they preach from the pulpit.
Preach as if one in three women listening in your audience are victims of domestic violence.
Please preach and communicate as if one in three women listening in your audience are victims of domestic violence. Let their faces come to mind as you prepare your sermons and when you talk about “trusting God” or “submitting” or “suffering for righteousness sake.”
Keep in mind that the victims of domestic violence who are listening to your words are trying to hang on to their faith and cling to your every word because they are desperate. So, when you say to just “trust in God,” “submit more,” or “suffer for righteousness sake,” they are likely going to apply it to themselves. Are you wanting them to submit more to an abuser?? Are you wanting them to trust God and remain with an abuser? Are you wanting a victim of domestic violence to suffer for righteousness sake? Of course you aren’t!!!!
But sometimes victims cannot differentiate which words are for them and which words are not. Many times they are minimizing the abuse and so they will hear those words and think they need to trust God more, submit more, and suffer more for righteousness sake. They need to hear from you that you are NOT talking about them. Please give them a disclaimer. They need to hear it!!
What I know about survivors is they are very simple. Most of their energy is gone and they are simply surviving. It takes too much mental and emotional energy to think through your words. They are trusting you, so if you say to suffer or trust or submit, they will want to follow your teachings. But you aren’t meaning those phrases for them. Again, I need to say it again firmly: do not be stingy with your disclaimers. They need to hear it, and your whole church body needs to hear it. It’s not a waste of time. It’s that important!
Well-intentioned sermons may be harmful to survivors.
I remember one time I was listening to my pastor’s sermon and I heard the “trust more” message through the eyes of a victim advocate. It dawned on me how a survivor might respond – – by putting herself in harm’s way based on her pastor’s words to trust God more!!! Do you see what can happen? Well-intentioned sermons may be harmful to survivors.
Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer!
So, I like to encourage pastors to be liberal with disclaimers. When you say, “trust God more,” or “submit,” or “suffer for righteousness sake,” be sure to add the disclaimer, “I’m not talking about abuse here.” Tell the congregants: “when you are living with an abusive spouse, you do not submit to abuse, I want to make that clear. Do not submit to abuse!”
When talking about trusting God, say to the congregation something like: “When I say trust God, I don’t mean to stay with an abuser and expect God to protect you.”
And when talking about suffering for righteousness sake, be sure to say something like: “When I say to suffer, I am never referring to suffering abuse.” They need to hear these disclaimers.
Using the disclaimers does a couple of things:
- It tells domestic violence survivors that you are not talking about them and their situation!
- It addresses the topic of domestic violence and abuse from the pulpit and tells the congregation where you stand on the topic. It tells them that you believe it is a real issue, that it is harmful, and that you care about survivors. In doing so, you are establishing that your church is a safe place for survivors and you want to support them.
So, to cap it up, pastors and church leaders, please preach as if one in three women have or will experience domestic violence. How are they going to respond to your words when they are barely surviving? Are any of your words going to be putting a survivor in harm’s way? If so, be liberal with disclaimers and assure them that you never want them to be in a situation where there could be more harm.
Now I’m going to add a disclaimer: I used women as victims in this blog post because women are more likely than men to be abused. Men are also victims of abuse, so the same precautions go for them as well.