Lies About What Godliness Is: Unraveling Spiritual Abuse and Lies Abused Christian Women Struggle With– Part Three
“It’s gossip to talk about abuse.”
“You need to love your husband unconditionally.”
“Love covers a multitude of sins.”
“Keep no record of wrongs.”
“Think on good things.”
As Christian women, our deepest desire is to please God and to do His will.
I see this desire used against covertly abused women of faith over and over, and it keeps them in abusive marriages for decades. Abused women are pressured to behave in ways that cause them more damage. This is spiritual abuse and it breaks my heart.
Women are being told how to be “godly” in their marriage by pastors and well-meaning Christians who don’t understand psychological and emotional abuse, or how God’s wants us to respond to this abuse.
The reason we’re susceptible to these lies is because we want to be godly, we want to have a pure heart, and we want to be loving. In fact we want to be, and are, all the things that they are accusing us of not being.
Using our heartfelt desires to shut us up about real wrongs being done to us and our family is manipulation and spiritual abuse.
This is part three of the series: Unraveling Spiritual Abuse and Lies Abused Christian Women Struggle With
Part One: Our Broken Church
Part Two: Lies About God
Part Three: Lies About What Godliness Is
Part Four: Lies About Forgiveness
Part Five: Lies About Wives
Part Six: Lies About Husbands
Part Seven: Lies About Marriage
Part Eight: Lies About Feelings and Faith
As we go through the following lies, remember to compare them against the 4 Cs:
The Character of God
The Consistency of what the rest of the Word says
The Context of the scripture in the book it’s in
Many Christians don’t have any understanding of emotional and psychological abuse
As I have gotten free of fundamentalism and legalism, I’ve made some good friends who aren’t believers. Quite frankly, they have a clearer understanding of how to respond to abuse than most Christians because their common sense hasn’t been covered over by Christian “worldviews” and doctrines that make little sense when applied to real life.
Over the years, I remember questioning religious beliefs that seemed to go against common sense. I was told “God’s ways are mysterious,” “There’s just some things about God that we’ll never understand,” and “You need to have faith.”
But as I’ve come to know Jesus, I’ve seen that He does make sense when it comes to personal relationships, safety, abuse, and love.
Yes, He’s mysterious- you can’t look at the stars at night or the birth of a child without marveling at His ways. And yes, we do need to have faith. But that doesn’t mean we need to spout absurd and harmful platitudes to women who are being abused.
So let’s look at these nonsensical lies that have confused us, shut us up, and kept us in bondage to abuse, all under the guise of helping us be “godly.”
It’s gossip to talk about the abuse
I thought I couldn’t talk about him because it would be gossip and backbiting. That made it impossible to truly get any help. When someone finally told me I could tell my story, and if it exposed him it didn’t matter, it was MY story, I was set free. I don’t tell people about HIM, I tell them about how he affected ME. If I don’t have people I can do that with I will never heal. ~ Covert Abuse Survivor
I was part of a Christian cult for several years. Even mentioning the harmful things the cult leadership did to members was labeled gossip, and being accused of gossiping was used to control the members, and keep us afraid and silent.
Being accused of gossiping is used to silence and control abused woman as well.
God tells us to expose the works of darkness. (Eph 5:11) How are we to do that without talking about it? How could it be gossip in God’s eyes to talk about darkness and expose it?
Let’s look at the difference between gossip and exposing sin:
Gossip is talking about someone behind their backs with a superior and shaming attitude, or to create division and harm.
Exposing sin is telling the truth about harm someone has done to you, your relationship, or to others. The goal is accountability, safety of those being harmed, pursuing justice, and giving the sinner the choice to repent.
Would it be gossip to reveal that someone was abusing your child? Of course not. Covertly abused women deserve the same protection from harm that abused children need.
You need to love your husband unconditionally
Biblical love doesn’t require women to be passive and accept abuse. We are to hate the things that God hates.
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Pr 6:16-19)
Biblical love includes speaking the truth and exposing wickedness.
Often the motive behind telling abused women to love unconditionally (and many of the other lies we’re told) is that Christians are very uncomfortable when we seek help for abuse.
They want to believe that everyone who says he’s a Christian is one. They don’t want to face wickedness. They want us to be silent to make them comfortable.
But our lives and our dignity matter to God.
Love covers sins so you need to turn a blind eye to his behavior
True love does not IGNORE what is evil, but ABHORS what is evil (Rom 12:9).
He who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (Jms 5:20)
True love deals with sin openly so it may be genuinely dealt with by the sinner. Our love can’t get rid of sin- only Jesus can do that. Only in letting Jesus deal with it, not by turning a blind eye, can the multitude of sins be covered.
The belief that the comfort of the abuser, in not having his behavior exposed, is more important than the emotional and mental well-being of his wife and children is appalling.
Love "rejoices not in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth." (1 Cor 13)
In many cases, calling out the behavior of an abuser will cause him to increase the abuse. Before doing so, determine if it is safe to do so for yourself and don’t do it if it’s not safe. You can leave without exposing abuse.
Exposing abuser’s behavior to those in the church, especially the conservative church, doens’t go well for the wife. She is rarely believed and, as is often the case with covert abusers, everyone thinks he’s a great guy.
In these cases, walking in truth for yourself and giving consequences to him, such as separation or divorce, is the most loving thing you can do.
Overcome evil with good
The Bible says, "Overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:17-21). But the "good" is to confront that evil with righteousness in love.
Biblical goodness holds the sinner accountable in the hopes that they’ll choose repentance so it can be genuinely blotted out through Christ’s forgiveness.
True love never ignores or overlooks sin. It never just sweeps it under the carpet.
Keep no record of wrongs
I was told not to keep a record of wrongs because we’ve all done something wrong or, “let’s not judge.” ~ Covert Abuse Survivor
When Paul says love “keeps no record of wrongs” in 1 Cor 13, he’s talking about not holding grudges or seeking revenge.
1 Cor 13, when applied to marriage, is for a loving relationship where both people are trying to be loving, and this love goes both ways. Plain common sense, and knowing the character of God and what He says about abuse, shows us that this verse was not meant to be applied to abusers and others who align themselves with the kingdom of darkness.
This verse can’t mean that there’s never accountability for wrongdoers, or that those who are wicked to others simply get a pass when they do wrong. If so, we couldn’t “keep a record of wrongs” when someone kills another person, or a pedophile molests numerous children.
How is abuse of a wife any less important than that?
Paul called the churches to account for their wrong doing. God confronts us with the truth of our sin and He holds us accountable so we might receive His forgiveness in Christ.
It’s vitally important for a covertly abused woman to remember her husband’s behavior so she can start to see patterns of abuse and get clarity.
Love "rejoices not in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth." (1Corinthians 13:4-6).
Think on these things
Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things. Ph 4:8
Abused women are quoted this verse and told to just focus on the good parts of their husband. This creates incredible confusion because all abusers have good parts, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are abusers.
So how can we “think on these things”? In this verse, the word “think” means to reckon, weigh, determine, or judge.
God isn’t asking us to empty our mind of bad experiences, or just focus on butterflies, flowers, and good things while we deny the abuse we are experiencing.
He wants us to think on things and use our minds to discern our experience.
As we think on things that are “lovely and pure,” we can see that how we are being treated is not lovely, pure, or praiseworthy. When we think about “honest,” we can ask “Is my husband honest?”
God is the God of truth and, when we live in truth, the God of peace is with us.
Put the past behind you
This scripture is used out of context all the time. In Philippians, Paul was talking about putting legalism, Pharisaical religion, and seeking righteousness through works behind him.
He wasn’t talking about forgetting events of his life.
God doesn’t want us to ignore patterns of abuse, and to see these patterns, we need to remember earlier experiences.
You don’t have a gentle and quiet spirit
I was told that all I can do is keep being faithful to my promise and keep showing grace, in the hope that his heart would be won over. ~ Covert Abuse Survivor
Many abused women are told that speaking up about abuse is not being gentle and quiet. They are reminded of this verse:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment … rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle (meek) and quiet spirit (1 Pet 3:3)
What a great way to guilt trip you and shut you up!
This verse is being used out of context. Firstly, it’s referring to winning your unbelieving husband to Christ, and most of our abusers already claim to be Christians.
But more importantly, the words “gentle” and “quiet” don’t mean being passive and tolerating abuse.
If we are to act with the “meekness and gentleness of Christ,” (2 Cor 10:1) it includes calling Pharisees a brood of vipers and walking away from those who mean to do us harm. Being godly does not mean being passive.
If you are “godly” enough and do “xyz” right, you can save your marriage
I was told "Give it to God," "Pray about it," "Play worship songs and you'll feel better." While none of these are wrong at all, I found them to be clichéd and a bit of a brush off. I needed practical support and rescuing!
I was told that I was praying wrong.
I was told that I'm not praying enough and that I'm not reading the Word enough.
I was told to be loving and self-sacrificial towards him, and meet his needs, and he will be loving back. ~ Covert Abuse Survivors
When I hear all the accusing things abused women are being told by their pastors, elders, and Christian friends, it’s stunning.
The fault for abuse is laid on the shoulders of the woman. Here are the two underlying assumptions:
they are being abused because they are doing something wrong,
if they could just figure out how to do it right, the abuse would magically stop.
Abusers abuse their wives because they choose to do so and feel entitled to do so. There’s not one thing an abused wife can do to magically stop the abuse and save the marriage. No one has that kind of control over the choices another person makes.
The Bible/ biblical counseling is all you need
I was sent to get healing prayer instead of trauma treatment. ~ Covert Abuse Survivor
When some abused women seek help outside the church, they are accused of being “ungodly.”
I remember being told that everything I needed to know about life is in the bible. Well actually there are many things that are not in the bible. The scientific knowledge of how trauma effects the brain isn’t in the bible. The forensic science of fingerprints and DNA to connect a criminal to a crime isn’t in the bible. How to train your dog or cook meatloaf isn’t in the bible. I could go on, but you get my point.
The biblical counseling movement is very damaging for abused women, or anyone who has experienced trauma at the hands of another.
This “counseling” has the client focus only on their own sin. When I went through it (before my abusive marriage) I was told to repent of my part in the childhood sexual abuse I experienced?!?!?! Wrong, wrong, wrong.
In biblical counseling, abused women are told to focus on their part in the abuse. As if they hadn’t already spent years looking at their part! As if they aren’t already being blamed by their husband.
I’ve never met an abused woman who hasn’t already spent years in self-examination looking for her part in the “troubled marriage” and trying to be more “godly.” A wife HAS no part in causing the abuse- it’s entirely the responsibility of the abuser.
True biblical counsel would include discernment between a repentant sinner, a fool and an evil person, and would give permission to have no fellowship with wickedness.
What claims to be biblical counseling uses only a small portion of the Word. It promotes the lies that abuse is a marriage problem and that a wife can somehow change her husband by being more “godly.”
A truly biblical counselor would know the limits of their training and would send a woman who has been traumatized (and often has PTSD) to a therapist trained in trauma counseling and researched based modalities that will help to heal the traumatized brain.
Why is it entirely up to the woman to “save the marriage”?
What about scripture for our husbands? Why aren’t they bludgeoned with requirements from the Bible like we are?
Does anyone else find it suspicious that these verses are never given to the abuser, but only the victim? ~ Covert Abuse Survivors
Instead of heaping on the wife a list of the thousand things she’s doing wrong, we need to step back and ask why it’s so easy for everyone to blame the woman.
Well, it goes back to thousands of years of sexism and patriarchy. These beliefs form the assumption that women are inherently wrong, ill-intentioned, failures at their “role” of being good wives, and responsible for the emotional health of a marriage, entirely, on their own.
If a woman is being abused, it has absolutely nothing to do
with if she’s “godly” enough.
If you want to be “godly,” then take a whip and go into your church, turn over the tables in the foyer, and expose in righteous anger the support given to abusers, the porn use by your pastor, or the sexual abuse of children in the congregation.
If you want to be “godly,” go up front and tell your elders that they are whitewashed tombs for putting burdens on abused women to stay, to forgive, and to try to save their husbands through their works.
If you want to be “godly,” next time your pastor, husband, elder or a flying monkey accuses you of something, say to them, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Jesus was being “godly” when He did all these things.
Undoing the lies
In addition to thinking about these lies with the 4 Cs, begin to agree with God that you aren’t at fault. Receive His love and acceptance.
Let go of these awful burdens that have been laid on you.
Rebuild your relationship with God until you know you can hear Him for yourself. Even if you have to stop going to church for a while, do whatever it takes to restore your confidence that you’re a child of God and you can hear Him regardless of what others think and are accusing you of doing wrong.
No one knows your life, your needs, and your heart more than God. Anyone you talk to will have their own perspective that will color what they advise you to do, so listen to God and let Him lead you to His truth and love for you. And when you choose to talk to people, be sure they understand abuse and are safe!!
If you’ve experienced covert psychological abuse and spiritual abuse, come join our private Facebook group for women of faith who are covert emotional and psychological abuse survivors.