Several years ago I volunteered at a domestic violence center and learned about the cycle of abuse. It involved the abuser repeatedly working to separate the victim from support systems (usu. family, friends), to control choices and behavior, to undermine the victim’s sense of autonomy and capability so that the victim becomes more dependent on the abuser.
I found this outline of the cycle of abuse on a domestic violence web site. It’s alarming how similar this looks to what happened at our last congregation. I’ve crossed out the elements that do not apply to the conflict with sr. pastor. As it happens, that’s every item that has to do with repentance.
Any type of abuse occurs (physical/sexual/emotional)
Abuser starts to get angry
Abuse may begin
There is a breakdown of communication
Victim feels the need to keep the abuser calm
Tension becomes too much
Victim feels like they are 'walking on egg shells'
Abuser may apologize for abuse
Abuser may promise it will never happen again
Abuser may blame the victim for causing the abuse
Abuser may deny abuse took place or say it was not as bad as the victim claims
Abuser acts like the abuse never happened
Physical abuse may not be taking place
Promises made during 'making-up' may be met
Victim may hope that the abuse is over
Abuser may give gifts to victim
The “incident” was always some episode of sr. pastor aggressively asserting control. He was surprisingly creative about doing it, but in every case his objective seemed to be to force compliance at any cost. He did crazy things and then refused to talk about them, manipulated every confrontation so that he did not accept responsibility. He was unpredictable and blamed (privately and publicly) Husband for anything that went wrong.
Other people on staff at the church have indicated that they are discouraged, unhappy, frustrated by our departure, but that they feel they cannot say anything.
Writing this is hard for me because I am furious that Husband - we - have been treated this way. It has caused immense pain to our family. It has sown doubt about things we ought never have to doubt. Everything about this is antithetical to my understanding of what pastors are called to do. I’ve been trying to write this for weeks, but thinking about it still makes me so sad and angry.
Now that we have left that church, I feel confident we will heal. I am thankful that God provided us with a way out. I continue to feel distressed, however, by the effect of this pattern of control on the church. It turns the congregation’s energy and identity toward a few particular rules of Christian living and away from God’s love and mercy and justice and a relationship with him in Christ. I cannot imagine why God allows this to continue.