Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence and Churches, Marriage, Personal Stories, Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual Abuse & Domestic Violence – A Call for Stories

I have been working along side other community members at our local police department for over four years now as a victim advocate. I am continually amazed by and honored to work with these wonderful peers as we serve victims on scenes of crime. While we can respond to call of any type of crime, the overwhelming calls we respond to are for domestic violence.

Last year I participated in a few training sessions with our new advocates and when I told some of them about the stories we hear in the Christian world, they looked at me with stunned expressions and couldn’t believe it. Since that time, I have been thinking about creating a training on the spiritual abuse component of domestic violence. The time has come to move forward with putting something together!

We have a great county resource guide for victims which includes information on community resource, protective orders, safety planning, etc. There is a small portion about spiritual abuse patterns in domestic violence including the following (Please remember we serve a diverse community, so this list isn’t exclusive to Christianity):

Patterns of Spiritual Abuse:
Forcing the conversion to a different religion
Not allowing a victim to practice their religion
Not allowing attendance at religious services
Forcing attendance at religious services
Degrading what is sacred to a victim
Humiliation in front of people affiliated with the victim’s religion or spirituality
Using religion to justify abuse

Beaverton Police Department Resource Guide, pages 21

I am looking for anyone who is willing to share stories of how spiritual abuse fit within your domestic violence situation. I will not mention names, but will be mentioning the blog. This means that we may have new people viewing the blog and they may see your name. If you’re concerned about that, please use a pseudonym. You may also email me if you do not wish leave a comment at: kathi.spiritualsoundingboard@gmail.com

Here are are some questions to consider for your personal account:

  • How did your partner or others spiritually abuse you?
  • Was there a time prior to your marriage where you were taught that a marriage is permanent or God hates divorce?
  • Were there pastors who advised you that you could not divorce, verses which supported your abuser instead of you, books that encouraged you to not leave your marriage, or friends or other sources who said that you just needed to be a better partner?

Since the stories we discuss on the blog center on the Christian world, I will frame my training in this lens. But, abuse is abuse, and we know that what happens in Christian intimate partner relationships relates to other religious groups.

Thank you in advance for your help. The more training my co-advocates receive, the better. I truly think it will be eye-opening for them to hear these stories. Everyone reacts differently to sharing their story of abuse, so please make sure you’re taking care of yourself. For our readers, please be kind to each other on this post.

19 thoughts on “Spiritual Abuse & Domestic Violence – A Call for Stories”

  1. Your vision will shed light on a very dark, hidden society of abuse victims. Even the most caring emergency teams scarcely know what they are seeing and hearing from the spiritually abused victim. I will contribute as I can.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My comments are written from the point of view of a mother whose daughter was in an abusive “Christian” marriage for 14 years.

    Around the five year mark in the marriage there was an incident of rage that scared her very badly. She called the abuse hotline and was told to go get a protective order which she did. But then one of the pastors involved in the situation heard about it and called her in for a meeting. He told her to cancel the protective order because if the court system got involved they would take the children away from both parents and put them into foster care. This lie was meant to scare her into compliance with the church and to make her believe the legal system would be against her.
    After that incident she went through nine years of cycles of church counseling which emphasized the following points: 1) You have as many problems as he does, so work on your own problems, 2) If you would submit more and be a better wife then he’d find it easier to be a good husband, 3) We don’t want you to dump your truck load of complaints, (however, they were always listen to HIS complaints), 4) You should submit joyfully to sexual abuse, 5) Depression is caused by sin and you need to overcome it, 6) You are exaggerating the abuse because you’re looking for an excuse to leave the marriage, 7) You shouldn’t speak badly of your husband, i.e. love thinks no evil, 8) You need to promise us you’ll never leave the marriage no matter what he does to you, 9) Show us your bruises if you want us to believe he abuses you, 10) If your life is in danger we would allow you to leave for a time (I think a month was the limit they put on that), while we would give you both more marriage counseling so you could get back together, 11) You can’t judge him because you don’t know his heart (a double standard, because they found it easy to judge her), 12) The only biblical grounds for divorce is adultery. As we discovered later, even adultery wasn’t really “grounds” because if they pronounced him “repentant” then she should forgive him and stay in the marriage. They repeatedly threatened her with church discipline if she left… and in the end that is exactly what happened.
    At one point in the marriage, I went with her to see a psychiatrist and listened as the doctor asked penetrating questions about her marriage and then, upon hearing the answers, advised her to leave the marriage for her own safety. My daughter said she couldn’t leave because her church wouldn’t allow it. The doctor asked how a church could keep her from leaving? She answered that they would tell everyone she’s a bad person and tell them to stop talking to her, and then she’d lose all her friends and her support base. The doctor was frustrated and repeated her advice to leave. I was struck by how frightened my daughter was by the church’s threats and how their “brain washing” kept her from seeing things objectively and from acting for her own safety and the safety of her children.
    One other note: Later my husband and I were called by a Christian Hispanic friend who had made a DV call and wanted us to accompany her as interpreters when the police came. The police sent a lady officer which was a smart move and helped put our friend more at ease (she was literally shaking with fear). The police officer was sympathetic and kind as she asked questions and gathered information. I was very impressed and wished my daughter had been more ready to use the legal system for protection in the past.

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  3. This is really about my parents, and I should start by confessing that certain things are hazy. My mother has died (cancer not abuse), and I don’t know how much my dad knows of her side of the story. I know his pretty well.

    At any rate, when I was in 2nd grade, my mom went back to work–I remember my parents being seemingly agreed on this, but I’ve got a hunch she went back to work because she wanted out. If she did something nice for others–she was a splendid hostess and great cook–she had to do the same for my dad. I don’t remember when my dad started beating her, but my guess is about when I went to kindergarten. I do know my dad justified it by saying he had a right to “discipline” his wife, trying to justify that from Scripture. but for obvious reasons not citing any, because there isn’t.

    About a year later, we stopped going to church. I’m not quite sure all the reasons, but my dad noted that the pastor was “trying to run everything”, but the flip side is that from looking at her recipe books, I learned that my mom’s best friends were from church. There may be some attempt at separating her from those. Around the same time, our trips to visit my maternal relatives were greatly curtailed, I think for the same reason. I know my mom noted that she felt my dad was threatened by that relationship, so I’m guessing there was some attempt to separate her from them. We had plenty of visits with my paternal grandmother, though.

    Interestingly, I may have helped bring matters to a head by asking to go back to church after a friend in wrestling (7th grade) asked me why I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer. So we went back to church, and I remember the beatings becoming more intense and public. My mom got very good at applying makeup to hide the shiners and composing herself when the phone rang after a fight. She also hid the sexual abuse from me–she told me that when I was in my thirties. At church, she got to know an older lady who later told me she’d had a role in encouraging my mom to file–along with at least two others.

    About a year later, my mom filed papers, and when she bought a little house, she told me that she was very close to being able to pay cash. The home’s had some improvements, but it’s worth $160k today. I’m guessing she’d been planning to leave for at least half a decade, and that’s the real reason she went back to work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Kevin – I understand your frustration. It’s hard seeing someone you care about being mistreated. All you really can do is be supportive and if they’re willing to hear you say, “you deserve better,” be the one to say that.

    Look up resources in your area. Let the person know you care for them, are there for them, and when they are ready, you have resources. Everyone must get to their own point where they can say “enough is enough” to be ready to make a change. Also know that when that person is ready to move on it may become a volatile time in their life so they may need more support than you are able to provide.

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  5. Mary27 – Thank you so much for sharing. My heart is breaking. The church should do better. I hope your daughter is doing well now.

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  6. Bike Bubba – Thank you for sharing. My heart hurts for your mom and for you having to witness that as a child. I hope that she was able to experience some freedom in her life.

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  7. I have been divorced from my abuser now for 4.5 years (it will be 5 in September of this year). I will try to limit my recollections to the spiritual dimension – as you requested.

    First off, yes, I was raised in a strict, conservative home that taught divorce for any reason was tantamount to the unforgivable sin. I was convinced that when I decided to share with my parents the nature and decision of my divorce (at age 43!) that they would “disown” me, be angry and never speak to me again. This did not happen but the fear was palpable and I was prepared to cut ties with them if need be.

    Like it was yesterday, I can recall my DH blaming the devil for our marital problems, specifically – his sexual addiction and compulsive acting out as well as my reluctance to re-enter into a sexual relationship with him (my boundary) and my desire to consider temporary separation as a means of healing.

    DH would run hot and cold when it came to his personal relationship. On the one hand, if asked, he could not recount how he became a Christian. In fact, at one point I think I counted 5 or 6 different versions of his story (told to different friends/family). He would rant against the church and “what good has it done?” swearing off attendance or future outreach opportunities. Then in the next breath, he would sign up to teach Sunday school, volunteer for overseas missions or host college kids in our home for 3mos.

    But by far the worst spiritual abuse came at the hands of my pastors. One pastor lied, used manipulation and deception repeatedly. It had been my choice to step down from the worship team when the nature of my DH’s sexual addiction had become public knowledge. I took a year sabbatical from the team after which I felt ready enough to return to the platform. Before returning, I felt it appropriate to inform the pastoral team of my decision. At the meeting with the pastors I was accused of dragging my feet in the healing process, refusing to reconcile quickly and they didn’t like the fact that I chose to sit separately from my DH during church (a trigger for me). In their opinion, a couple should reconcile in 6mos-1yr. Thus, I was dragging my feet and holding up the process. While they didn’t outright call this sin, the implication was there. Further, they were officially blocking me from the worship team as a form of discipline because they “can only allow so much dysfunction on the platform.” Since the nature of this meeting was supposed to be simply discussing my return to singing – I felt a bit ill-prepared to have a “state-of-our-marriage” discussion, as I had not been the one originally caught in sin. Further, the pastors had originally promised to walk us both through recovery and this was the first “check up” I had received – 1 year later. I stated my disappointment with their failure to follow through on their promise. They wanted a second meeting.

    I was approached by both pastors after church on Sunday where the lead pastor cornered me and my DH indicating we were both to come to the second meeting to provide an update on our marriage recovery work. I had just been manipulated. Originally, the meeting was scheduled just with me and the agenda was to further discuss my own healing efforts and potential return to the worship team. I felt betrayed, misled, deceived and manipulated – by my own pastor! That week, before the meeting, I sent the pastors an email expressing my sorrow and dismay at their behavior. I never got a response.

    It was my choice to have a safe friend in attendance with me at the second meeting. Trust had been broken and I wanted a second set of ears to listen. Not much new happened at the second meeting. DH looked like a hero as he detailed his recovery “work.” I continued to fail to live up to the pastors’ expectations. I restated my dissatisfaction with their failure to keep regular tabs on us – as promised. How could they possibly know how we are doing, what we are doing, what kind of effort is being put forth, what kind of mental/emotional/spiritual health we are in if they never meet with us. They offered to have more group meetings. I declined. I would meet 1:1 with a specific pastor. They recommended one of the pastor’s wives – I informed them that I was already doing so. Finally, one of the pastors present agreed to follow-up with me. I agreed to this arrangement (it wasn’t the one who deceived me). Also, they insisted on marital counseling (that failed). The subject of the worship team? It never came up.

    I met with the pastor as promised…2 or 3 times. He asked me to come up with a list of topics I wished to discuss with him. I had a list ready – two pages long. He took one look at it and called me a liar. He said he didn’t think I really had questions. He believed I was just looking for something to blame. He believed I already knew the answers to all the items listed on my sheet. I tried to assure him otherwise as this experience had caused me to question my beliefs and organized religion, in general. He failed to see the connection. I revealed to him that DH was not just a sex addict with compulsive behavior – he was also abusive. This was news to the pastor and he asked for examples, I gave him some. I asked if he believed me. He said he neither believed nor disbelieved me. He relayed a story about he had been taken advantage of by a bride’s mother when he thought the mother was speaking truthfully about an abusive situation. Apparently, it was the mother that was the source of trouble. Since that time, he said, he has learned to be cautious in accepting stories of maltreatment and abuse where there is little evidence. I guess that included me. Then the pastor then said I was not “the type” to be abused, my personality is too strong and I am too smart. The overall response was largely unsympathetic.

    A few months later, I left my house with my 5-year-old son and entered the county women’s domestic violence shelter. Before I did, I tried multiple times to reach the pastor to see if there was any other option. I emailed. I called. No response.

    After leaving the shelter and finding a place of safety, I left the church (I never went back). I mailed a certified letter indicating my request to terminate membership. I did not hear back from them until several months later. When I did, it was the pastor asking if I was sure I wanted to terminate membership. How condescending! Like I can’t make up my own mind. When I briefly emailed back that my intentions were fully expressed in the letter mailed to them, he wrote back “may God have mercy on us all.” As if I am somehow doomed for my actions.

    I am sure there are more examples; these are the ones that immediately come to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kathi, since you’re curious, yes, my mom did find great joy in her second marriage, and the example my step-dad set was crucial to showing me how to love a woman in a way a woman could understand. I joke that my wife is grateful most days! :^)

    A key issue in the success of marriage #2 is that my stepdad recognized how he’d been controlled by his ex-wife in similar ways, and it was a huge joy for them as my mom helped him re-connect with his cousins, aunts, uncles, and more.

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  9. Kharis – Thank you for sharing with us. How the pastors treated you makes me angry. They should have supported you but decided that your marriage (or at least their idea of your marriage) was more important. What a shame. I hope you are in a better place now.

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  10. In their opinion, a couple should reconcile in 6mos-1yr.

    Kharis, I’m so sorry about this whole story because it sounds both a mess and fairly typical for the type of church I’m assuming this is sigh…but I wanted to pull this out because I think the ‘no divorce’ crowd tends to think like this. Set a time to pass and then it’s all better, even if nothing has changed, because otherwise we have to admit that some stuff isn’t actually fixable, particularly if one side doesn’t want to fix anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Julie Anne~ I am fine with you using my post. Thank you for asking. In fact, I have the original emails should you want them.

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  12. Sure, please send them to me: spiritualsb@gmail.com

    Thank you, Kharis. I am a firm believer that personal stories are powerful – both for the one telling their story, and also for some who will finally recognize themselves in the story and will gain strength to do something about it, make healthier decisions, and begin their road to healing. So, thank you in advance! 🙂

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  13. Both of my parents and I were born and raised in the Southern Baptist Convention. My father’s father was a Southern Baptist preacher.

    My mother married my much older father the second she graduated high school before her eighteenth birthday. Her sister had gotten pregnant and married at age fourteen and fifteen.

    My mother’s father had a fetish with underage girls getting married, pregnant, having sex, and being raped. We were to be used for what we were created for. On my mother’s side of the family, I was the first girl not to get married before my eighteenth birthday or have a baby in my teens. My grandfather hated and condemned me for it.

    I have known two kinds of comp women. The kind like my mother’s mother, who is a pervert and loved pretending to be a 12-year-old sex slave for her putrid husband.

    Then the kind like my mother, who was not a pervert and was comp because she was brainwashed to believe if she was not comp god would hate her and set her on fire for internity.

    My mother has always seemed like a seven-year-old little girl. She is so naive and so clueless about everything.

    My father decided my teen mother would get pregnant and have me. She had no choice and I was born. I was a sick baby and crying one night. It got on my father’s nerves so he beat his teen wife in her face and her face gushed blood. My father ALWAYS abused and blamed us for things we had no control over, knew nothing about, and things that he heaped on himself.

    My mother’s parents did not care at all that my father beat the little girl like teen who had just given birth. She could leave him for a few days but she was d*mn well going back to her master. My mother’s parents did not love their daughters or their grandchildren. They did, however, want their sons-in-law to get everything they wanted. My aunt’s husband left her and her five children and had the electricity turned off on them. They had to move in with my grandparents.

    When I was a little girl I remember laying in my bed at night listening to my father scream and curse at my mother that no one liked her or loved her. That her parents did not love her. He told her every day that her parents did not love her. My father always talked to my mother as if she was disagreeing with him or arguing with him. She never did. She can’t argue. She just sat there and listened and agreed with him.

    After my father married my mother he went to all her friends and told them she did not like them anymore and to stay away from her. He isolated her. She was completely trapped. No money, no education, no job, no friends.

    My mother’s grandfather was a devout Southern Baptist. His daughter was married to a preacher who beat her. My great-grandfather would not let her leave her husband. My aunt did what her father wanted and took the abuse. She only weighed 90 pounds and I have been told my whole life that she was the sweetest woman that ever lived. She got cancer and died leaving behind two underage children. She lived in pain and died in pain because that is what her Christian father and Christian husband wanted her to do. The bible did not say she could divorce her husband for beating her. How convenient for Christian men.

    It makes me sick when my friends who were not raised in conservative Christian homes say what they always say when a conservative man says or does something abusive to women and girls. “I bet he would not say that or like that if it was his daughter.” Yes, he would! Our fathers do NOT love us. We are to take sexual harassment, perversion, sexual abuse, beatings, live as slaves, and keep our mouths shut about it. Why? Because we were created by God for men. Men matter and little girls and women do not.

    Christianity ruined my mother’s life and my childhood. The bible made our lives a billion times worse.

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  14. This post talks about toxic painful spiritual abuse and little girl sexual abuse.

    I have not seen good Christian women who are fighting abuse of other women in Christianity think about or care about how Christian misogyny and wife-beating affects little girls trapped in these nightmare homes.

    As a little girl living in sexual abuse, I was extremely alert. I was always watching, always listening, and always thinking. I woke up brainstorming about how to avoid pain and how to get God’s help and I went to sleep brainstorming about how to avoid pain and get god’s help.

    I was trying my best to stay far away from Christian men. I did not want any of them looking at me, talking to me, thinking about me, or saying my name.

    I loathed hearing my father’s vile voice. I hated his face, his hands, and the sound of his truck coming home.

    I had eyes, ears, a heart, feelings, and a brain. Christian sh*t hurt me greatly. I was just a new little girl. Why did I have to be the used, demeaned, trapped slave for men? Why couldn’t I be a free person with the right to tell men no?

    As someone born and raised in comp I am embarrassed for Christian men. With all the cr*p they try to get out of women and little girls. All the while trying to see to it that they not take the blame for any of it and a god does. Muslim men see to it that Islam is rigged in their favor as well.

    My father beating my mother and Christians saying God wants her to stay married to him caused me intense spiritual trauma and misery my entire childhood. I became suicidal at age 11 and had my first mental breakdown at age 15 because of the pure misogyny that is Christianity.

    Christianity made my childhood sexual abuse hurt twice as bad.

    Racking my brain 24/7 trying to figure out why God loved for men to hurt my mother and I accidentally made me a critical thinker. Why does God want me to be raped? If he loved little girls and hated child rape he would answer my prayers and stop it. Why does God want my mother to stay married to a man who abuses her? If he loved women and mothers he would pick the abused woman over the wife beater.

    Not only was my mother trapped in a living hell with a wife beater but I was being sexually abused by an extremely misogynistic Christian man. Where was God? ALWAYS on the side of the wife-beater and little girl rapist.

    My prayers were never answered. These were not shallow prayers like oh god please send me a pink cashmere sweater and a diamond heart necklace. I got on the floor on my knees one night and cried and begged god for two hours to please stop the pain. He NEVER answered my anti-child rape prayers. I still keep believing God was real.

    What initiated my atheism was as a young teen I was always hearing stories of women in my family being abused by their husbands and God wants wives to stay married to the men who beat and rape them.

    It occurred to me. Wouldn’t abusive men love it if they could have it fixed so they got a woman no matter what for life? And they could do anything they wanted to her and she could never divorce them?

    It was not years of sexual abuse and god not answering my prayers. It was God wants wives to stay married to men who abuse them.

    Christianity NEVER benefitted my mother or me. It sure did benefit a little girl rapist and a wife beater.

    I know another woman who came to the same conclusions for the same reasons. One night when she was a young teen her father beat her mother so bad the ambulance had to come get her mother. The woman and her two little sisters screamed and cried standing against the wall watching in horror as their father tried to beat their mother to death. The church blamed the mother and said no divorce. Now, these three little girls are grown and believe like I do that Christianity is fake and was created by and for abusive men.

    Wife beating; mother beating is terrorism of the so-called family.

    Yes, yes, yes. I have been told by many selfish, spoiled, misogynistic, pretend what they want to be true is true, churchmen that mothers staying married to the wife-beater is good for wife and daughter. These odious men deserve to be the submissive wives of ISIS.

    I see no reason why a little girl rapist and wife beater would not want to be Christian. They are protected and Christians line up to see to it that they don’t lose anything. In Christianity, it is ALWAYS women’s and girl’s jobs to live in pain and not get anything they want so Christian men can live in pleasure and get everything they want.

    Reading the self-serving (((LIES))) that comp men peddle always takes me back to why I stopped believing.

    I tell these things even though I have dyslexia and am very bad at english because I want someone to care about the little girls who are living in misogyny (Christianity) while being sexually abused. I have found maybe 12 Christians who actually care about the pain Christianity causes raped little girl. I have found thousands of Christians who care about the pain it causes Christian men when they don’t get their *sses kissed by women and girls.

    It is so sad how much people ignore the pain little Muslim girls and little Christian girls live in because they were born into male supremacy.

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  15. I have not seen good Christian women who are fighting abuse of other women in Christianity think about or care about how Christian misogyny and wife-beating affects little girls trapped in these nightmare homes.

    You haven’t? I think a few things are going on here.

    You have women who are still in the fog. They are stuck, they have internalized the misogyny, they think is the way to be good christians..
    You have women who get the h*** out of dodge because they see it’s a mess. Some of these people may be working with individuals or organizations but would you see it? IDK.

    I know I certainly care, but I have no control. So I chose to leave and go to a ‘liberal’ denom that respects women. Aside from working with a women’s shelter, or childrens org, I dont know what to do to help people.

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  16. How many of you see how complementarianism contributes to the abuse of women?

    A poster in the recent Bill Hybels thread (“Bill Hybels’ Mentor, Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, Accused of Clergy Sexual Misconduct: A Personal Story”),
    S.G., is arguing in that thread that because a handful of egalitarian men have been found to sexually abuse women,
    that he feels complementarianism is not the problem.
    I left him a reply on that thread, but it’s sitting in moderation.

    I think that complementarianism is ten times more dangerous than egalitarianism,
    since it undergirds and supports the very sexist and entitled mindsets that abusive men look for to use as cover to abuse women in religious contexts.

    And….
    My mother was abused by her father when he would get drunk,
    and he would physically abuse her mother (my grandmother) when he was drunk.
    That factor, plus the complementarian churches my mother was brought up in,
    turned her into a codependent doormat,
    and Christianity only encouraged her to remain one.

    Guys like S.G. and KAS don’t want to free women like my mother, they wanted her to stay “stuck” in those problems and pain.

    Complementarians really equate being a doormat with being “godly.”

    They really think being a codependent is “God’s design for women.”
    It’s not.

    My Mom brainwashed me to be codependent too, which left me unable to cope in adult life (and of course the Southern Baptist churches I was brought to growing up re-enforced these beliefs that it was “godly” and “good” for girls and women to be submissive to men, and to be passive.)

    As a result of being raised with that type of parenting, and that sort of Christian teachings about girls and women (i.e., complementarianism),
    I was frequently targeted for exploitation, financial abuse, and verbal abuse by other people as I went through life.

    It was only in my 40s when I realized it’s okay to have boundaries and be assertive that I put a stop to a lot of that,

    -but you will notice when I speak out on these issues on this blog here and on others, that other Christians will actually stand in opposition,
    like S.G. pops up in a thread or two back to essentially defend complementarianism,

    KAS shows up here to talk smack about having boundaries and he defends comp, too. (He actually thinks it’s a form of selfishness for people to have boundaries, when having boundaries has liberated me – Jesus did not liberate me, neither did the Bible, or faith, or the Baptists or church, but learning about something as rudimentary as having boundaries!)

    These Christian men (S. G. and KAS, and men like them) don’t want solutions,
    they don’t want what really sets women free…
    they have an agenda to promote,
    which is pushing their favorite doctrines / theology / church,
    and promoting those doctrines and world views means more to them than people do.
    It’s very perverse.

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