Commentary Religion

Happily Abused: How to Use a Woman’s Faith and Trust to Make Her a Willing Accomplice to Her Own Abuse

Vyckie Garrison

Christian woman's advice to abused wives reads like a handbook for ascetic self-mortification.

After stumbling across yet another piece of alarmingly dangerous advice for abused women of faith titled, Surviving Emotional Abuse Six Stepsby Christian author, Darcy Ingraham, I am wishing I had more middle fingers with which to express my extreme irritation. Ack!

I will to try to calm down long enough to use my words rather than profane gestures to talk about spiritual abuse.

To begin with the author assumes that only those husbands who abandon their faith become angry, bitter, and abusive — and she offers no help for women whose abusive husbands are fully committed Christians acting in accordance with patriarchal teachings derived from the bible; she quotes random bible verses out of context to convince abused women that they are safe from actual violent abuse so long as they remain close to God; she appears to believe a woman’s display of piety (praying out loud for her abuser and telling him that she is giving him over to the Lord, for example) is the way to truly intimidate her abusive husband and get him to back off; she advises victims not to “make the abuse worse” by reacting to their abusers’ anger (followed by the whiplash-inducing about-face when she admonishes victims to never allow anyone to convince you that the abuse is your fault); and to top it all off, the author encourages abuse victims to take charge of their lives by finding a hobby.

When we write about “surviving” abuse at No Longer Quivering, we mean living through it, getting help, getting away, processing, healing, and moving on with our lives.

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To the “Six Steps” writer, “Surviving Emotional Abuse” means living with the abuser and “finding contentment” in a situation which, in fact, should not be tolerated.

If you are constantly exposed to emotional abuse, then you are probably humiliated and and criticized often. You may not be able to change the abuser, but you can make positive changes in and for yourself. Emotional abuse can only hurt you and hold you back if you allow it to. The Lord has a way of using the most difficult times of our lives as the greatest time of growth.

When I was experiencing some struggles of my own, a dear friend reminded me of that truth. She said, “When you have nowhere to turn, but to the Lord, it is then that you experience a great strengthening of your faith and untold spiritual growth.” These words were just what I needed to hear.

“Emotional abuse can only hurt you and hold you back if you allow it to.”

Really?

Really?!?

I understand that not every abused woman is in a position to immediately leave her abuser — however, the advice in this article goes beyond merely offering trapped women coping strategies — it is encouraging women to believe God has a good purpose for their suffering; an idea which often results in confused and desperate women embracing the abuse and even cooperating in their own oppression.

As we share our stories at NLQ, one question that is frequently asked is, What is spiritual abuse? What distinguishes “spiritual” abuse from regular forms of physical, emotional, and mental abuse?

In spiritual abuse, a person’s faith and ideas about God, the supernatural, and the afterlife, get intermingled and entwined with relational and behavioral choices so that the situation is not only about the way a person thinks, acts, and relates – it is primarily about the condition of your soul.

Let me give you an example from the article:

No one wants to be in an abusive marriage, but if you are a Christian woman the decision to leave or stay is not yours alone. The Lord has a plan for you and if you seek His wisdom, He will show you the way. Just know that if He leads you to remain in the marriage, He will be your strength. In “Our Daily Bread” by RBC Ministries, this sentence brings it home. “Assignments from God always include His enablement.”

Here the author maintains that the decision to stay in or leave an abusive marriage should not only take into consideration unhealthy relationships and safety issues, but must also include “the God factor.”

Abusive situations are disconcerting enough—but when an abused woman is also required to figure out what God would have her to do, the result is an overwhelming entanglement of spiritual discernment, hermeneutics, theology, faith, trust, devotion, spiritual discipline, eternal rewards and judgement, divine intervention, hierarchical authority, angels and demons, sacred vows, and spiritual-mindedness which thoroughly complicates and convolutes and radically reorients the perspective of literally every practical consideration.

The question which the victim asks herself is no longer, “He is hurting me—what should I do?” – instead, it becomes, “He is hurting me, but God loves me and He knows what is best for my life – if I take matters into my own hands, am I really trusting the Lord?

Does God have a greater purpose for my suffering? Does God want to use my patient endurance as a witness to draw my husband to Himself? What is more important – my immediate personal safety — or the eternal salvation of my husband’s soul? Is self-preservation godly — or am I seeking instant gratification and the comfort of the flesh? How will I ever be made pure in the refining fires if I remove myself from the heat? Does the clay say to the Potter, what are you doing with me? Is there any biblical justification for leaving my husband when he hasn’t actually hit me or committed adultery? Have I prayed enough? Is my heart right with God? Is Satan deceiving me into destroying my own family?  

Maybe I just need to have more faith and to be long-suffering and try to submit more wholeheartedly and sincerely? What would Jesus do? Would he defend himself? Would he give up and walk away? Would he withhold his love and forgiveness? … and on and on and around and around … until the woman is thoroughly overwhelmed and paralyzed by indecision. She cannot even say for sure whether or not she’s being abused, and she never gets around to addressing the the only truly relevant question: What should I do?”

Of course, the victim is given every assurance that God loves her and wants only the best for her and will supernaturally intervene on her behalf – plus, He will provide the strength she needs to endure the abuse:

God loves you so very much and you are of great worth to Him. You must look to Him who created you as the unique and wonderful person that you are; to Him who has a plan for your life. First, trust Him by claiming the promise of Jeremiah 33:3 (KJV), “ Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” Then trust Him to see your through with the words of Philippians 4:13 (KJV), “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

The most insidious spiritual abuse occurs when Believers begin to not only “find contentment” in their abusive circumstances but to find spiritual meaning and divine purpose in their sufferings. This sort of mental gymnastics can easily manifest as a form of Stockholm Syndrome when victims who believe that they have no options – no way out – delude themselves into feeling they do have a certain amount of control when they “choose” to embrace, support and defend their abuser. It is oddly empowering to an abused person to say, “This is what I want—yes, it may be painful, but it is actually beneficial to my spiritual growth. I thank God for this and rejoice in my sufferings because in the end, it all brings glory to my Savior!”

Insert puking smiley here.

It is at this acute degree of absurdity that the spiritual abuse victim will begin to participate in and even facilitate and inflict abuse upon herself. After all, she “reasons” (though in truth, little of this dynamic is consciously understood) that if God wills her suffering, it must be right and ultimately good, and therefore, why would she want to alleviate or prevent it? Rather – she looks heavenward for the strength to endure and her mind seeks the eternal vantage point from which her present trials seem petty and insignificant.

She stops looking for a way to escape the pain, and instead – she learns to live with it, welcome it, and even thank God for it.

Yes, reading this Christian writer’s irresponsible and dangerous advice to abused women made my blood boil. I feel angry  and anxious and re-traumatized. Most disturbingly, I also feel disoriented and flustered because as I read the article—which I could easily imagine myself writing only a few years ago (only, unlike the author, I would have encouraged women to emulate Jesus’ example of martyrdom) – all the old faith-based confusion crept back in to muddle my thinking and I found myself second-guessing everything I’ve discovered about reality, mutuality, boundaries, self-preservation, equality … My brain momentarily reverted to its religiously-conditioned comfort zone of self-abnegation and the abdication of choice and positive action in favor of “spiritual” rationalizations for hand-wringing and overwrought inaction.

Ugh. I hate that.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.