Tag Archives: Abuse

Family Culture or Family Cult?

“Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.”

Psalm 36:1

Every family has its own unique culture, a structure, and a flavor woven through it that begins with the parental relationship and filters down to the children.  Each family culture is defined by priorities, interpersonal relationships, and the power pyramid, which incorporates authority, family rules, boundaries and expectations.

Entire books have been written on this subject, so let’s summarize this dynamic by acknowledging that priorities may include a balance of personal responsibilities, social involvement or extracurricular activities, as well as household expectations that incorporate chores, obligations and cooperation.  Some family cultures are obviously healthier than others, and some are downright destructive.  In this regard, I have come to believe that abusive households are not merely a less healthy family culture but more akin to a family cult.

To get a better glimpse of the home-based cult dynamic, let’s take a look at some basic descriptors that define a cult and compare it to the structure of an abusive home.

All-knowing leadership. The leader claims to be sent by God to rule and make all decisions. What he thinks and believes is law.

No room for differences. Members must believe exactly the same way and in exactly the same things; there is no room for negotiation or disagreeing with the leader’s rules or doctrines or doing anything outside of the set limitations.

Scriptures get an added twist. Bible verses are often taken out of context or twisted to mean whatever accommodates the leader’s agenda.

All others are wrong.  The cult leader asserts that God has given him the role of pointing out “heretical and evil” attitudes and behavior that don’t fall in line with his viewpoint.  Furthermore, followers are expected to defend the family structure no matter how rigid, cold, impersonal or impractical it may be.

Works prove faith. The leader often claims his efforts are superior to those performed by everyone else.  For this reason, all members of the family must demonstrate absolute abeyance, a commitment to perfectionism, devotion, the preservation of image, and an expectation that all family secrets will be kept.

The high standard applied to family members does not apply to the leader.  The leader is exempt from the expectations he imposes on others. Calling attention to the leader’s hypocrisy may result in painful retribution.

Safety is a big unknown.  The leader bases his measure of approval of family members on performance and accommodation.  Members operate under the constant fear of criticism, judgment and punishment.

No exit. Leaving is not an option.  Intimidation and the ever-present threat of physical, emotional, social or even financial pain are used to deter members from escaping.  Those who dare to question or leave the overly controlling environment will be condemned as traitors and treated as such.[i]

Although what is described above is consistent with a cult structure, it is also verifiably consistent with the kind of dynamic found in abusive households.

Family members suffering under abusive, dictatorial rule are often deprived of power, permission or resources; therefore, the intent to break free of the family cult comes with a substantial measure of fear and intimidation.  Escaping requires:

  • a sober recognition of the immoral, irrational dynamic that the cult leader has created in spite of heavy and ongoing indoctrination;
  • a courageous willingness to reject the authority of the leader and other family members and his allies; and
  • the determination to take the actions necessary to escape under threat of condemnation, demonization, isolation and other forms of emotional or practical punishment.

Those leaving a religious cult will almost certainly be welcomed, embraced and protected by many churches from the cult leader’s influence and his design to reclaim his victim(s), while providing victims with the opportunity to detox, enjoy restoration, and come to a full knowledge of the truth.  Unfortunately, when those wishing to flee a destructive, cult-like, abusive family seek out people of faith for support (pastors, Christian counselors and fellow believers), those who might be inclined to aid victims leaving a religious cult may be the very ones who try to prevent victims who are desperate to escape a home-based one.

Christian leaders and counselors should be guardians of truth – and therefore equipped to identify untruth.  Sadly, many religious folks tend to rationalize that these small but toxic sects are somehow benign or even valid when it comes to the family cult leaders’ hyper-controlling brand of authority.

Rather than identify the painful reality and support victims in their pursuit of freedom, home-bound cult victims may be encouraged to remain in the abusive environment.  We might expect hurting family members to be told that, rather than escaping, they should view their role as some kind of divine calling to be ever more respectful, obedient, encouraging and forgiving toward their leader.  In these situations, the powers that me may insist that demonstrating love is more important than rejecting the cult leader’s false teachings and sacraments, his demands for unquestioned loyalty and the fearsome power structure he uses to hold them captive.  Only because the man is a husband or a father does he somehow escape scrutiny.  This reality is absolutely bizarre, backward and overtly harmful.

It would seem obvious that family members who have lost their identity, their value and their voice to a home-based power-monger-cult-leader could expect to receive support in their pursuit of freedom from those in the body of Christ.  If only that was the case.

Thankfully, there are some who “get it,” the passionate few who possess the knowledge, experience and history to be able to identify the dysfunction and the emotional trauma caused by family-based cults.  It is these who are willing and able to educate and empower victims, to give the hurting the support and tools they need to escape and reclaim their lives.  Of course, I am happy to help, but I would also like to share links to a few other exceptional ministries in this regard:

Speaking Truth in Love Ministries

Give Her Wings

Emotional Abuse Survivor

A Cry For Justice

When you see this cult-like dynamic or anything similar, take the time to encourage potential victims in their quest to get the support they need so they can break free and begin to live healthy, balanced, abuse-free lives.

[i] Don Veinot, “Defining a Cult,” Christianity Today, July/August 2001, accessed internet 6/9/2017; http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/2001/julaug/definition-of-cult.html

(Although abusers can be of either gender, the overwhelming majority of abusers are male; therefore, the abuser is referenced in the masculine.  The reader’s  understanding is appreciated.)

Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved

Lessons in Crazy-Making

Lessons in Crazy-Making

It was not just a bad night among many, it was an insane night.  Our four kids were all asleep in their beds when my husband and I got into an argument about something rather menial, but he quickly escalated into a rage.  Having no success in calming him, concerned for the kids and seeing the extreme manner of his response, I simply said, “I think you need to leave.” 

At that point, he exploded.

“Oh, you want me to leave, do you!?  Well, if that’s what you want, then that’s what you’ll get!”  He immediately went out into the garage and grabbed a couple of suitcases, returned and marched upstairs, tromping as he went while he continued his tirade.  I followed him up the stairs and tried to calm him down and asked him to be quiet so as not to wake the kids, but this was his moment to make a scene.  He went into the bedroom, tossed the suitcases on the bed and began grabbing his clothes from the closet and loading them up.  He grabbed his conga drums and other instruments, dragged them downstairs and began loading them and other favorite possessions into his van.

 “I’m asking you to leave until you can calm down,” I tried to explain. 

 “You said you want me to leave, so that’s what I’m going to do!”  

It wasn’t long before the kids were awakened.  When they came out of their rooms rubbing their eyes and asking about all the commotion, their father loudly told them that I was making him leave.  They all gathered together on the eldest daughter’s bed, held one another and cried, while I working to convince the man that he was being irrational (which didn’t go over too well) while simultaneously trying to assure the kids that everything would be okay. 

 After about 45 minutes of loading up his van, he came in and told me he was tired and was going to go to bed and would finish up in the morning.

 “Fine,” I conceded.  He went to bed, I was able to get our somewhat traumatized kids back to their beds, and I slept in the sofa-bed downstairs, where I had been sleeping for months. 

The next morning, I woke early and called my supervisor at work to let him know I would not be in, as my husband was moving out, and I needed to make some arrangements for the kids.  I got the kids off to school, returned home and was drinking a cup of coffee at the kitchen table when my husband slowly trudged downstairs.  Seeing me in the kitchen, he said calmly, “What are you doing home?”

“I stayed home to take care of the kids,” I reminded him, “since you’re leaving.”

He gave me an incredulous look and shook his head as though I had lost my mind.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I’m not going anywhere,” he said, and retreated back upstairs to take a shower.

I would like to say that I was surprised by the absurdity of it all at that moment, but I wasn’t.  My former husband had obtained pro status when it came to responding severely and irrationally.  By the final year of our marriage, the word I mentally used to describe our relationship was “insane.”  It was. Continue reading Lessons in Crazy-Making

The Sympathy Bond

It is a strange thing to comprehend:  most of us as abuse victims actually feel sorry for the person abusing us.  Why is that?  How can it be that, after all he* has put us through, we choose to see this person who treats us contemptuously as a fragile, hapless creature worthy of our patience and understanding?

In my own experience and having had the opportunity to work directly with many victims, there are several things that may keep us feeling sorry for the guy – and subsequently bound to him. Continue reading The Sympathy Bond

The Only Divorce in the Bible

We have traditionally been taught that the marriage covenant is unbreakable with the exceptions of adultery and abandonment; therefore divorce for any other cause must be characterized as a sin.  So it is instructive to examine the only actual divorce in the Bible.  Found in the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, most people are shocked to learn that it was the Lord God Himself who divorced His bride, Israel.  We read:

“The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to Me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.  She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce.  Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. “Why do you contend with me?””  Jeremiah 3:6-9 (English Standard Version)

It is a tragic account, where the chosen of God had abandoned their love relationship with God to follow after other lovers.

“Aha!” the legalists might say.  God divorced Israel precisely as a result of her adultery.  Well, yes and no.  If the reader believes that every Israelite had physically committed adultery, then such a claim is wholly unrealistic.  But if the reader can agree that the nation’s faithless heart had turned to idols, materialism, pride and selfish pursuits while neglecting their allegiance to the God who saved, protected and provided for them, then that would be more accurate.  Furthermore, it was Jesus who declared, “You have heard that it said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Matthew 5:27-28

Our Lord made it clear that adultery is a sin of the heart even if it is never physically acted out.  So it was that in Jeremiah’s day God’s people had emotionally and spiritually turned their back on the One who had delivered and blessed them.  God sent His chosen bride a powerful message by recognizing the lawful dictates established in the Mosaic law to identify the truth about the condition of the relationship and act righteously in accordance with His people’s moral failure.

Let’s expound on this.

It is in Deuteronomy 24 that Moses put forth God’s law when it came to the process associated with the severance of a marriage:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife…”  Deuteronomy 24:1-2 (English Standard Version)

(There is further direction regarding the lawful process should the woman be released from her subsequent husband, but for our purposes, we will stop there.)

The three elements of biblical divorce include:

1) Legitimate cause:

“…and it happens that she [the man’s wife] finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her…” (emphasis added)

This was understood to reference an offense of a serious and unacceptable nature.  The specifics remain undefined, which underscores that divorce was a matter of personal moral conscience.  (Some Jewish teachers taught – and continue to teach – that divorce was and is acceptable for “any cause at all,” but such a teaching seems in clear defiance of the heart of God for marriage.)

2) The provision of a writ of divorce:

“…and he writes her a certificate of divorce…”  The writ specifically noted that, possessing the writ, a woman was thenceforth deemed “free to any man.”

3) Permanent separation:

“…and sends her out from his house…”  Physical separation finalized the severance.

Upon the completion of these actions, both were free to marry.  In fact, Deuteronomy 24 presumes that the woman will marry again.

But let’s take a minute to absorb the depth of grief of Israel’s Father-God, whose bride had abandoned her first love, her sovereign husband.

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of His harvest.  All who ate of it [Israel] incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the Lord.””  Jeremiah  2:1-2

God blessed and protected His chosen ones.  But even as God poured out the fullness of His blessing on His people, they turned away, believing that they could anticipate His continued blessing even as they wandered off toward immoral, superficial and godless pursuits.

“Thus says the Lord: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from Me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?  They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’ And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who handle the law did not know Me; the shepherds transgressed against Me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.”  Jeremiah 2:5-8

This was not a minor offense, nor a singular one.  The hearts of the people had grievously rejected the covenant God had established between Himself and His people, wherein He had said, “I shall be your God, and you shall be My people.” (Exodus 6:7)

Jesus similarly clarified that it is in the heart that betrayal occurs.  The adulterous heart that brings corruption into the relationship, neglects its partner, and violates its oaths is guilty.  The notion that a partner is assured of continued blessing where there is treachery is a mockery and a lie; for the covenant has been broken.

And while we see God’s grace still extended, repentance was an absolute if the relationship was to be restored.

“Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not look upon you in anger.  For I am gracious,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God and have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the Lord.”  Jeremiah 3:12-13

We see that the Lord offered His grace and forgiveness – if His people would repent and return to Him.

But God pronounces His severe judgments against a stiff-necked people who refused to receive His petitions, a people who thwarted the blessings God longed to bestow upon them but could not because of their hardness of heart.

So is every broken relationship doomed?  Of course not.  Every relationship can be healed but only if both parties are willing, not just one.  Furthermore, healing can only come if the offenses are confessed, repentance is genuine and trust is restored.  Those determinations must be made by the ones in the relationship and respected when one or the other fails to provide more than lip-service.

It is also important to note that, using the literal translations of these terms in Scripture, the word “divorce” as a noun does not exist, so there is no such thing as “getting a divorce” nor does the word “divorced” occur as an adjective, such as “a divorced man or woman.”  Neither is there any reference to remarriage or a remarried individual.  Biblically, in terms of marital status, an individual of marriage-worthy age could only be unmarried, married, free to marry or “put away,” which describes the woman who had been sent away without a writ, keeping her legally bound to her husband.  In the Jewish culture, a put-away woman is known as “agunah,” which means “anchored” or “chained woman.”

What is meant by “put away?”  In biblical times, men had grown accustomed to sending away their wives either without cause and/or without a writ – in direct violation of the precepts of the Mosaic law.  Without a writ, a “put-away” woman was usually deprived of the return of her dowry in addition to mandatory financial support for a predetermined period of time, obligations which would have been specified in the “ketubah,” the marriage contract.

For this reason, the interpretation of Malachi 2 wherein the prophet presumably asserts that God hates divorce is patently incorrect.  The prophet actually says that God hates the act of “putting away” a spouse for it was a self-serving act and a cruel offense against wives who were left abandoned and materially unprotected, whereas their husbands were taking other wives in their place and committing polygamy in the process.  The Scripture never says that God hates divorce.

But what of the covenant?  Is such a covenant unbreakable?  The truth is that no covenant is unbreakable.  Throughout the Bible, covenants are made, kept and  broken.  It takes all parties of the covenant to keep it, and only one to break it.  Here we see that the nations of Israel and Judah were responsible for breaking their covenant with God.

“They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.”  Jeremiah 11:10

Divorce in the New Testament

Similarly it is the act of “putting away” that Jesus condemned, for the put-away woman and the man who married a put-away woman both committed adultery, for she was still another man’s wife.  When you see the word “divorce” in the New Testament, replace the word with the term “put away” or find a literal translation to see a profoundly different truth.

For example, in Matthew 19, we read, “Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”” (New American Standard – emphasis added)

The literal translation reads, “And the Pharisees came near to him, tempting him, and saying to him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?’”(Young’s Literal Translation)

Suddenly, the meaning is distinctly altered.  It must be presumed that long-ago Bible interpreters did not know how to best translate “putting away,” and the closest English understanding correlated the term to the act of divorce; however, as you can see, the act and outcomes were not at all the same.

If God does not sin (and He cannot), then He purposefully took a righteous stand and sent a powerful message when He severed the bond with His wayward bride.  So it must similarly be recognized that those in ungodly marriages may have legitimate cause to end their marriages when the covenant is broken by one party or the other or both.  This does not make divorce a trivial act at all, but rather a sober matter of conscience before God.  Yet even He acknowledges that the dissolution of a marriage may represent an appropriate, biblical response to a willfully broken covenant.

For more insights on this subject, please consider my book, “God Is My Witness:  Making a Case for Biblical Divorce.”

Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved

 

 

Identifying Financial Abusers and Their Tactics

Early in our marriage, my husband and I worked cooperatively on budgeting and saving.  We came to an understanding that neither of us would make any major purchases until we discussed them and agreed upon them.  But as the years passed, something shifted – and not in a good way.

When balancing our checkbook virtually every month, I would discover significant cash withdrawals that my husband had made, but with nothing material to show for them.  When asked where the money was going, he would reply, “Good things.  All good things.”

On many evenings, as I paid the bills and tried to budget the little that remained, I had to will myself not to cry.  My husband would walk by me sitting there, pat me on the shoulder and say patronizingly, “You’ll figure it out.” And, yes, I always found a way to make ends meet, but barely.  I suppose he knew I would, which only substantiated his increasingly spend-aholic ways. 

Then there were the times later in our marriage when I found large sums of money stashed away in a drawer or the linen closet. When confronted, he would say that that was his money, perhaps from a bonus he said he had received at work.  Not only did I not believe him, but it didn’t matter to me where the money came from when our household had legitimate needs.  I reminded him that he had a wife and children who should be a priority, but he usually dismissed me and affirmed that he had more important things in mind – like buying a new shotgun or saving for a new set of conga drums.  Month after month money continued to mysteriously disappear from our bank account. 

After the divorce, it became apparent that at least a portion of those funds had been spent at local strip clubs.  But even that couldn’t account for one-tenth of the financial – and emotional – damage the man had done to me and our children. 

Recognizing that the abuser’s desire for power and control are at the core of the abusive relationship, it should come as no surprise that finances will likely be impacted as well.  Continue reading Identifying Financial Abusers and Their Tactics