Abuse and the Virus

One of the most challenging things about domestic violence is that rarely does the person who is being subjected to abuse realise that they are being abused.  A victim is one of those women, the shrivelled up ones who (according to most stock images) cowering in a corner with a bruised face.  And their partner isn’t one of those men.  He’s a good guy really.  He doesn’t mean it.  It’s only because of all the stress and he had a really bad childhood and he loves me and soon things will get back to how they used to be.  To take the step of acknowledging that our partner is abusive is a huge thing.  Once it’s not “me overreacting”, “his difficult childhood”, “the way I push him to the edge”, “how passionate he is”, “only that one time when he left me bruised”, once we label it ABUSE, everything changes.  Nothing can go on as normal.  We have to take action.  We have to accept that our relationship must end and that our children will lose their father and nothing will ever be the same again.  And that’s before we begin to reckon with all the ways his behaviour will escalate if we try to leave.  Around 80% of men who kill women, do so within eighteen months of her leaving him.

 

Men are more abusive over Christmas.  Often people think it’s because of the stress, the money worries and the increased alcohol consumption.  But that’s not why.  It’s because an abuser deliberately destroys whatever is precious to his partner and children.  He destroys birthday celebrations and anniversaries.  Some abusers destroy every family mealtime, leaving their children with eating disorders because their father (or step father) has thrown food, screamed at their mother, or gone into that silent sulk which they all know ends in him being violent.  The other reason abusers are worse at Christmas is because there is greater opportunity to abuse.  Most people get time off over Christmas, and the abuser will use those extra hours to demand he get whatever he wants.  And because it’s Christmas, his partner will acquiesce, because she wants to make it special for the kids; because where would she go on Christmas Day when he’s kicked the Christmas tree over?  On Christmas Eve he pushes her to do sexual stuff she doesn’t like, but he promises her that if she does what he wants, he’ll make Christmas nice.  So she does what he wants.  Then on Christmas Day she asks him to help with the dinner and he kicks off and blames her for ruining Christmas.  And she just wishes that she’d not asked for help, he was tired after all.

 

You may be wondering why I’m writing about Christmas when we’re dealing with a global pandemic…  It’s because this crisis, and the self-isolation and physical distancing caused by it, creates the similar context as living with an abuser at Christmas, but about a million times worse.

 

He’s now at home 24/7, not just for three days.  He uses his need to work from home to demand that everyone in the home stays silent all day.  If his partner can’t keep their three-year-old silent; he screams, punches walls or makes threats that she’s knows he’ll carry out later.  He’s always hated her speaking on the phone with her friends or family and normally she waits until he’s out of the house to call them, because he’ll tut or huff and puff throughout the phone call.  Now she can’t speak to her anyone.  And then he says he’s started with a temperature and they all need to stay in for fourteen days.  She hasn’t seen any evidence he’s got a temperature, but she daren’t question him as she knows he’ll hurt her, or worse, take out his outrage at her insolence on the kids.

 

And she can’t leave now.  He’s there all the time.  She’d thought about it before, was just waiting for the right time.  But now the kids are off school and don’t have any stability and so she can’t move into a refuge.  And anyway, she’ll be exposing her asthmatic seven-year-old to the virus.  She keeps trying to make everything nice for them all, exhausting herself to make things nice.  He always leads her to believe that she can “make” him nice, if she only plays by his rules.  But then he changes them, or the kids needs something that means she has to break them.  Her job say she can’t have time off as she’s a carer.  But she knows he won’t look after them properly.  He’ll undermine her and play fight with them until they cry and then when she gets home, he’ll keep her up until 4am in the morning interrogating her about which male co-workers she interacted with, accusing her of having an affair.  She says she can’t go into work and her line manager is horrified at her lack of commitment in this crisis and fires her right there and then.  She daren’t cry, because he’ll mock and deride her for it.  She dreads Sunday, when he’ll demand that she and the children participate in the online streamed church service that he’s been planning, the one that was so important all of them had to be silent for three days straight.  Afterwards, he whispers to her that he’s never punched her in the face because people might see it, but now things are different.  She’s his and he’ll do what he wants to her.

 

Specialist domestic abuse services are working around the clock to make their provision effective for women during this epidemic, but due to ideologically driven cuts, they’ve already been stripped back, defunded and de-specialised.  For each of us, there’s not a lot we can do to make a difference while also social distancing and self-isolating.  Abusers are making choices to isolate, control, abuse and harm their partners and children, and the only people who can stop abuse are those who choose to be abusive.  But it’s important that we understand what abuse is, what the dynamics are, and how this virus is going to hugely increase women’s vulnerability.  It’s crucial that we don’t perpetuate myths about abuse; it’s not the stress or financial difficulties caused by the virus that is increasing perpetration, it’s about increased opportunity.  Women who don’t leave abusers are not stupid or wrong; they are doing everything they can to keep themselves and their children safe.  Abusers deliberately act in ways that prevent their partner making sense of what is going on or being able to articulate it as abuse; so doing announcements about “if you’re being abused we can help you” is not really going to reach that many of the people who need support.

 

What can we do as we continue into this unknown place?

 

  1. Contact your local domestic abuse and ask them how you can help; do they need financial support, donations, volunteers to drive/move/clean?
  2. Educate yourself about domestic abuse (my book can help with that).
  3. Be aware that if someone is being abused, their online interactions may be tracked.
  4. Notice who isn’t able to engage with your community; who isn’t on Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp, and see if there’s a way to check in with them some other way.
  5. Facebook is particularly risky for those who have left an ex-partner, because it is very easy for him to find her. Ensure you have an additional option other than Facebook for engaging with those in your community.
  6. If you hear violence or noise from a neighbour’s home, call the police (use 999 if you are concerned it is an emergency).
  7. Be vigilant. Are there people in your family or friendship group, amongst your colleagues, church community or neighbourhood who are acting differently, whose communications have gone down dramatically or who seem withdrawn or different.  Try to make regular contact with them.
  8. Be aware. When you do your shopping, are there women and children who seem overly subdued, or is there a man behaving in domineering ways (abusive men will be emboldened in a context where they have so much uninterrupted space to abuse, and this may be visible in the brief encounters we have with people).
  9. Trust women. If someone tells you something that sounds abusive, if they talk about feeling suffocated by their partner, if they say they feel scared or need help to leave, believe them straight away.  Whatever they tell you will be the tip of a very horrific iceberg.

 

If you identify with the abusive behaviour detailed in this post, it may have shocked you to become aware that what is being done to you (or what you are doing to someone else) is abusive.

If you are recognising that what is being done to you is wrong and if it is safe to do so, here are some places that can help:

 

If you are concerned about your behaviour towards a partner, you can contact the Respect perpetrator helpline: https://respectphoneline.org.uk (0808 802 4040).

Trauma and the Virus

The world has gone mad and for a little while so did I.

 

Before the virus hit the UK we were in the process of relocating from Essex to the North East.  We were excited that our offer had been accepted on a beautiful house in Sunderland and we had buyers in place for our house.  After ten years living in Essex various factors converged to make moving north seem like a great idea. It would allow us to become mortgage free, it would move us closer to my family and we could live by the sea!

 

It’s less than two years since we lost Smallest GLW.  After a complicated process of my great nephew becoming one of our children for three years, we had been seeking a Special Guardianship Order for him when it was ruled he must be returned to his mum and live four hours away from us.  We’d believed God wanted us to welcome him as one of our own children, and then he was taken away.  It really shook my understanding of who God was.

 

Not long after him leaving us, our family history was brought to the fore.  For those unfamiliar with my story, at 17 I entered a relationship with an abuser.  By 21-years-old, I was living in a hospital after my then husband had assaulted me, causing my son to be born 3 months premature. My toddler daughter and I lived with him in hospital for five months.  It was in this place, when I had lost everything, that I discovered the God who is everything.  I gave my whole life to the God who never promised that things would be easy, but promised to always be with me.

 

My children are now 16 and 14.  It’s complicated when our children become teenagers, because their challenges are still our challenges, but they need us to keep their confidences.  Suffice to say, the last eighteen months has regularly sunk me back into a traumatised place as the reverberations of my ex-husband’s abuse continue to shatter parts of mine and my children’s lives over and again.  Even though he’s had no contact with any of us for over 13 years.

 

Over eleven years ago, God called me to work nationally to address male violence towards women.  At first, I refused.  But God said to me, “If I call you, I’ll resource you.”  And so I embarked on what has become over a decade of challenges, frustrations and a deep, abiding joy as I have developed many and varied projects (you can have a read about some of them at the bottom of this blog).  God has resourced us throughout it all.  There has been the constant challenge of trying to work out what we need to do and what we should leave up to God, and there have been many incredibly generous people who have felt called to support us on our way.

 

As the virus threatens impending doom on civilisation, all I could think about was that it was going to stop us moving house.  I became fixated on needing to get moved.  It took up all my headspace, all my emotional energy.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus on anything except moving house.  And it made me hate myself.  The whole world is falling apart, people are going to die, everything is going to change.  And all I could think about was Needing To Move House.  I prayed for perspective.  I used the Ignatian Examen to try changing my perspective.  I blasted worship music out while driving, trying to force myself out of the selfishness.  I journaled, went running and cuddled Preston Wooflepuff (click here if you would like to be dazzled by her beautifulness), but nothing changed.  I wanted to be thinking of others and how to be one of the helpers, but instead I was driven mad with the need to move house.  And I hated myself for it.

 

Then, all of a sudden, I realised I was experiencing a traumatic response.  This wasn’t really about the house move.  I hadn’t become obsessively self-involved.  Instead, my body had patterned matched to previous threats.  When I was with my ex-husband I was powerless.  He almost destroyed me and I lived under a constant fear of what he would do, or make me do, next.  And so my body and brain had strategies to keep me feeling safe. These included:

  1. Focussing on the minor issues, make them HUGE, because then I didn’t have to deal with the Actual Issue.
  2. Being on high alert all the time, repeating the problem over and over and over in my head, but never finding a solution.
  3. Denying my powerless while at the same time shutting down any resources to overcome the powerlessness (like creativity, potential solutions, connection to others and God).

 

Realising I had entered a traumatic space changed everything.  I stopped beating myself up and identified my body and brain’s rationale for behaving in the ways it needed to.  Instead of continuing to be alienated from my body’s resources, I began to appreciate my body and brain for providing an (albeit highly problematic) coping strategy.

 

Last year, I finished a theology MA.  In my dissertation I argued that we should view trauma responses as grace-empowered superpowers, rather than problematising them.  That we operate in a world which is “safenormative”.  A world which “others” traumatised people and holds us to the standards of those who have never been subjected to brutality.  That by honouring (without romanticising or glamorising) trauma responses, we enable traumatised people to love the whole of themselves.

 

I began to feel less wrong as I made space for the purpose behind my fixation on moving house; to make a global pandemic feel manageable, to maintain high alert so that I could be kept safe, to deny the powerlessness.  My responses were understandable, they made sense and they were my body trying to keep me safe and alive.

 

I’ve come out of the other side now.  I don’t know whether our house move will go through, but I’m able to accept whatever the outcome is.  I’m facing the reality that our finances were already highly precarious before the virus hit, and now we have no clue what we will live on for the foreseeable future.  We’re on lockdown after Smaller GLW (he’s 14) developed a temperature yesterday and everything feels hugely uncertain.

 

And yet, that God who met me living in a hospital with a premature baby and a traumatised toddler, is with us today.  That God who has always resourced us remains faithful in the midst of all that we face.  And so, having recognised my trauma responses for what they are, I begin the process of working out how God will help us make it through.  And as I do, I’m reminding of Andy Flannagan’s song, “We Are Blessed”. This is not just about God enabling us to make it through, but finding ways to be God’s hands and feet, wherever we find ourselves in this messy and mad world.

 

 

————————

 

These are some of the projects I’ve developed:

 

 

I am self-employed and the main earner in our family (Mr GLW has worked unpaid supporting my work for most of the last decade).  If you feel able to support us at this time, there’s a few ways you can do that:

 

  1. We have a Stewardship Individual Christian Worker account, which means you can give a one-off amount or sign up to give regularly here (and we get Giftaid on it!): https://www.give.net/20220001.
  2. Mr GLW (his real name is Andrew), has begun working as a virtual assistant. He will be charging £20 per hour and has experience in most administrative tasks (book keeping, using Mailchimp, uploading blogs, email management, research, diary management, answering phone calls, data entry, preparing spreadsheets etc).  If you (or anyone you know) could use his skills, please email him andrew@nataliecollins.info.
  3. Buy and read my book (and encourage others to): Out Of Control; Couples, conflict and the capacity for change. If you email me on natalie@nataliecollins.info, I can send you a Paypal link to buy it and then we get a greater amount of the sales.
  4. Pray for us. I know there are so many people and circumstances to pray for at the moment, but if you feel convicted to commit to pray for us, you can sign up for our semi-regular prayer email HERE.

Pray For Helen

Many of you will know my dear friend Helen Austin.  She is amazing!  She’s a specialist in sexual violence, a brilliant activist (she runs the At Your Cervix Twitter account), a wonderful friend and an all-round marvellous human being.  A while ago, I set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for her to get sessions with a specialist trauma therapist after some health problems seriously triggered historical trauma related to being raped by strangers.

 

After years of ill-health (including numerous hospitalisations, wrong diagnoses and death scares) Helen was only recently diagnosed with Hereditary Alpha Tryptasemia Syndrome(which is massively rare).  Helen is the kindest, loveliest woman, and has been on an amazing journey of faith.  Throughout everything that has been done to her and happened to her, she seeks to love God and make a difference in the world.  And I LOVE her.

 

This week, the health problems that triggered Helen’s trauma have been diagnosed as Endometrial Cancer (stage 1).  This is super rare in women of Helen’s age (she’s 35).  She has only just got used to having a serious rare disease and now she’s found out that she has cancer.  It is utterly devastating.  Next Thursday she goes into hospital for a hysterectomy, which is super risky because of her other health problems.  Then, depending on tests, she may also need radiotherapy.

 

There are lots of different kinds of Christians, and some of them (like me) believe that there are spiritual battles to fight.  And with everything that is constantly thrown at Helen, I feel it would be good to dedicate some intentional prayer to battle the ongoing attacks on Helen’s life and wellbeing.  As John 10:10 says, the enemy “comes to steal, kill and destroy”, but Jesus comes that we “may life, and may have it abundantly.”  I know that for non-Christians and other sorts of Christians the idea of fighting a spiritual battle may not be your thing, but for those of you who feel convicted that there may be an ongoing spiritual battle over Helen’s life, I invite you to join me in a day of prayer and fasting for her.

 

Why prayer and fasting?  In Matthew 17:21, Jesus explains that the reason the disciples’ prayers haven’t been effective is because some spiritual battles can only be fought by prayer and fasting.  I’m sure people with much more theological knowledge than me have various explanations for what Jesus meant here, but I’m taking it at face value, and saying that those of us who believe we are called to fight a spiritual battle and are convicted to pray for Helen can join together, wherever we are in the country (or the world) and dedicate a day to fight against all these dreadful things that keep coming against her.  The plan is:

 

DATE: Wednesday 29th January

TIME: When you wake up until 6pm

 

Fast from all food (or if this is dangerous or impossible for you, fast from using your phone or some other important life thing), and take time throughout the day to pray in Jesus’ name against whatever is seeking to harm Helen, asking God to breakthrough, to protect and heal her (including through the medical care she needs).  This can be done around other work/home commitments.

 

Things to pray for…

  • The operation to be successful.
  • Helen’s high risk-ness not to cause problems.
  • All the medical staff involved.
  • Helen’s physical and mental health, and that she will have all the resources she needs (emotional, financial, spiritual, physical).
  • That there will be no need for radiotherapy.
  • That no evil will prosper in Helen’s life and that she will be released in to health, wellness and recovery from physical and mental health stuff.
  • Protection for Helen and all those who are supporting her.
  • Breakthrough, transformation and release.
  • Anything else that occurs to you to pray for.

 

For those who are not into praying in this way, please pray in whatever way works for you.  And if you are not the praying sort, and would like to send Helen a card/gift or other thing, do email me (befreeuk@gmail.com) and I can organise getting it to her.

 

Helen is going to need ongoing trauma therapy, particularly as cancer has somewhat derailed the plan of processing her historical trauma, and if you’d like to financially support the GoFundMe for her therapy sessions, you can do so HERE.

 

THANK YOU!!!

 

 

#SheRises7

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Rev Dr Kate Coleman’s book 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership, I’m organising a Twitter book group to read through the book, one chapter per week.  Kate’s organisation Next Leadership are encouraging people to run She Rises book groups and so I thought a Twitter Book Group would be a great idea!  

Rather than having to all be online at the same time or anything like that, we’ll have the hashtag #SheRises7.  As we read the book, we can tweet with the hashtag to share any thoughts or ideas.  We can also read through the hashtag and comment on other people’s thoughts.  And we’ll have a chapter hashtag to make clear which chapter we’re discussing (e.g. #int for introduction, #ch1 for chapter 1, #ch2 for chapter 2 and so on).  

About ten women have told me they’re interesting in joining.  Within the next couple of week’s the audiobook will be launched, so anyone who can’t manage reading it can participate using the audio book. 

We’ll start with the Introduction on Monday 14th October, which gives women time to sign up, and also for those on limited budgets to have a bit of time to get the money together to buy it.  If you would like to participate and can’t afford the book, let me know.  If you would like to support women in participating by buying a book for a woman, let me know (especially men who are committed to supporting women’s leadership).  My contact details are at the end of the blog.

This is the #sherises7 book group plan:

WEEK BEGINNING CHAPTER HASHTAG
14th October Introduction #int
21st October Chapter 1 #ch1
28th October Chapter 2 #ch2
4th November Chapter 3 #ch3
11th November Chapter 4 #ch4
18th November Chapter 5 #ch5
25th November Chapter 6 #ch6
2nd December Chapter 7 #ch7
9th December Overall reflections #sherises7

If you’d like to join the book group, feel free to just start tweeting with #SheRises7, and join in with reading the book and tweeting from 14th October.  However, if you’d like to be copied into tweets about the book group, to let you know where we’re up to and stuff, please can you tweet or dm me and I’ll add you to my list. 

To contact me about needing a free book or to offer to buy a book for a woman, you can email on befreeuk (at) gmail (dot) com or direct message me on Twitter @God_loves_women.

No Stand. Just My Story.

Last week Alabama became the seventh US state to enact a ban on most or all abortion.  There are only four women in the 35-seat senate, with 25 white, male senators voting for the law, which will be the strictest in the US. It will outlaw abortion in all circumstances, except “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly” (this makes it slightly less strict than the Northern Irish law, which does not allow abortion due to foetal abnormality).  A motion to ensure that exceptions be made for rape or incest failed on a vote of 11 – 21. Under this new law, any doctor who performs an abortion will face a prison sentence of up to 99 years. During the debate about passing this law, Democrat Bobby Singleton pointed out that this would mean a doctor performing an abortion on a woman impregnated by a rapist would face a longer prison sentence than the rapist.  The law has not yet come into effect, but the fact it has passed at all reflects a huge shift in how abortion is treated in the US.

 

White evangelical Christians have been at the heart of the pro-life movement.  Donald Trump capitalised on this in his election campaign, and it worked!  Eighty percent of white, self-identified evangelicals voted for him.  Within the UK, evangelical views on abortion are less clear; the Evangelical Alliance’s 21stCentury Evangelicalsreport found that while 49% of evangelicals believed (a lot or a little) that abortion can never be justified; 18% were unsure and 33% believed that there were situations in which abortion could be justified.  Outside of evangelicalism, Christian views on abortion vary widely; with some Christians actively involved in pro-choice activism.

 

As a Christian feminist, and as someone who currently still identifies as an evangelical; I have avoided speaking publicly or writing about abortion. There will be secular feminists and evangelical Christians who would be disappointed about this.  Both would say that my making a stand on my views about abortion are an imperative of both my feminism and my faith.  I remain reluctant to make that stand, mainly because my views are nuanced and conflicted.  Not something that works well within our highly polarised society on an issue where pro-choice and pro-life are such clearly delineated camps. But here I am, not so much making a stand, but rather reluctantly telling my story.

 

Growing up, we had a jar of dead babies in a kitchen cupboard.

 

Yes, you read that right.  Let me explain…

 

After becoming Christians, my parents discovered pro-life activism. They had leaflets filled with photographs of aborted foetuses.  They were instrumental in the opening of a pregnancy crisis centre in our local town; offering pregnancy tests, counselling, baby equipment and more.  Growing up, abortion was a familiar word, though I didn’t know what it meant.  When I was about six, I was playing with a friend (whose mum was also involved in the pro-life movement).  I remember cradling a plastic doll and declaring that “I’m going to have an abortion of this baby.”  My seven-year-old friend look horrified, “You can’t!” she exclaimed.  “That’s putting a baby in a plastic bag and throwing it on a fire.”

 

One time, my parents attended a rally to mourn the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act.  As part of the rally, a paper canon shot out thousands and thousands of small paper circles (like floaty paper communion wafers).  My parents collected a load of them in a jam-jar.  On returning from the rally, they placed the jar in a kitchen cupboard, explaining to us that each paper circle represented a dead baby. And for years, every time we reached into the cupboard to get a tin of beans or tinned tomatoes; there would be the jar of dead babies.  Sitting there.  Getting dusty.

 

Fast forward to my teenage years, where evangelical sex education taught me “don’t do sex until you get married to an opposite sex Christian”.  I loved Jesus and understood that as a teenage girl in the late nineties and early noughties, no naughtiness should ensue. My virginity was proof that I was countercultural.  I would evangelise the nation, or at least my fellow students at my college, with my intact hymen.  Which was all going really well, until I met a dashing young man.  I told him I didn’t believe in sex before marriage, he said that was fine and then proceeded to coerce and manipulate me into sex.  Christian sex education hadn’t prepared me for this; it’s only really in recent years and since the advent of the #metoo movement that evangelical Christian culture has begun to have conversations about consent.  A catholic education devoid of lessons on contraception, a mother who believed what the Daily Mailsaid about the contraceptive pill causing cancer, and an abusive boyfriend who told me that “sex isn’t real unless there’s a risk of pregnancy” led to me becoming pregnant at 17.

 

Reproductive coercion is not a term many people are familiar with, however recent research has found that 1 in 7 UK womenhave been forced into pregnancy or abortion by a man.  The methods of forcing someone into pregnancy range from subtle to brutal; pricking holes in condoms, lying about having had a vasectomy or a low sperm count, interfering with contraception, surreptitiously removing the condom before ejaculating in a woman (some men see this as a challenge and call it “stealthing”), rape (including sex with someone while they are intoxicated or asleep). There’s been this long-term myth that women and girls “get themselves pregnant” to trap a man.  Do you know who is trapped by pregnancy?  The pregnant girl or woman.  That’s who.

 

In 2018, Mormon blogger Gabrielle Blair wrotethat, “all unwanted pregnancies are caused by the irresponsible ejaculations of men. All of them.”  She went on to challenge men’s reluctance to use condoms, “Why would men want to have sex without a condom? Because, for the precious minutes when they’re penetrating their partner, not wearing a condom gives them more pleasure. So… that would mean some men are willing to risk getting a woman pregnant — which means literally risking her life, her health, her social status, her relationships, and her career — so they can experience a few minutes of slightly increased pleasure.”

 

My parents had tried to prevent me having sex, but when I told them I was pregnant they were positive, “We tried to stop it getting here, but now there’s a baby involved that’s something we should be positive about.” The irresponsible ejaculator (my abusive boyfriend) and his family tried to force me to have an abortion.  I refused.  I had my daughter in 2003, when I was eighteen.

 

In 2014, the Guardian featured Young Motherhoodby Jendella.  I was part of the project, and my photograph and some of my story was shown under the headline “We’re glad we chose to be mothers in our teens”.  I was really disturbed by the headline.  I hadn’t chosen to be a mother in my teen.  I had it inflicted on me.  I was ready to ring the Guardian and insist on them changing the headline.  Then it dawned on me.  I had chosen to be a mother in my teens because I had chosen not to have an abortion.  In that moment, something shifted in me.  I hadn’t solely been a victim of reproductive coercion. I had made a choice, I had chosen motherhood!  But I was only able to choose motherhood because I live in a place where abortion is not illegal.

 

When people talk about rape and abortion it often fills me with either rage or dis-ease.  The men who ignore the horror of rape, the trauma of reproductive coercion and the complexity of raising a child in such circumstances will never have to deal with that reality.  Yet, those who exclaim that of course a woman who has been raped should have an abortion do not know how hurtful that can be for those of us who have made different choices.  However, this has to be about choices, not forcing women to have children.  When people suggest that having a child in less-than-ideal-circumstances will destroy a woman’s life, I am proof that does not have to be the case.  Yet, when someone offers blanket statements that abortion is always wrong, I want them to be kept awake at night by the names of women who have died after desperately trying to salvage their life through an illegal abortion.

 

Abortion is a moral minefield because human beings were created interconnected.  No person is an island; a new human is created through a woman and man joining together, with the potential new human sustained in the body of the woman.  And in a sinless, perfect world; new life creation would never be tainted by violence, poverty, inequality, fathers raping their daughters, teenage girls not taught about consent, irresponsible ejaculation or other harmful and damaging realities.  But we do not live in a sinless world, and so many women and girls are scarred inside and out because of that.

 

I remain conflicted.  It is because of my ragingly pro-life parents that I was able to resist an abuser and refuse to have an abortion.  It is because I live in a country where abortion is legal that I was able to choose to be a mother, and that I can tell my children that they were wanted and chosen.  My life shows that being pregnant as a teenager after a male had sexually abused me and subjected me to reproductive coercion, in a context of poverty, did not mean that I should have had an abortion.  That after everything, life can be beautiful and I am achieving my potential.  However, other women’s lives show that having no access to abortion was a death sentence for them and a horrifying reality when they were forced to have children.  I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know that many pro-life people (particularly men) do little more than make uninformed, uncompassionate pronouncements and many pro-choice people view crisis pregnancy in ways that are both hurtful and not representative of mine and some other women’s experiences.  I don’t have any answers.  I’m not here to make a stand. I’m just here to tell my story.

Sermon Notes…

I preached at my local Churches Together unity service tonight and thought I’d post my notes in case anyone would like to read them…  The theme of the service was justice and I preached from Amos 5:4 – 24

  • Each of us here is a beloved child of God. For those of us who have chosen Jesus, we are redeemed and set free by Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s grace. Yet, what are we dedicating our lives to?  What are our priorities.
  • Slavery
    • The slave Bible
    • The EA in the UK
  • Colonialism
    • Christianity spread across the world because the church partnered with the king/emperor
  • Women
    • Anti-suffrage
    • Anti-women’s rights of all kinds
    • Still people who they personally, or their denomination, who don’t believe I should preach
  • Yet still the Spirit moves
  • Those who fought for justice were the outliers of their time:
    • Martin Luther – removing hierarchy)
    • William Wilberforce – RSPCA, criminalising slavery
    • Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper) – child labour, worker’s rights
    • Mary Wollstonecraft – women’s rights
    • Josephine Butler – helped women exploited in prostitution
    • Sarah and Angelina Grimke – fought against slavery and women’s oppression
    • Sojourner Truth – fought against slavery and for women’s rights
    • Martin Luther King – civil rights movement
  • Do we want to be part of the dominant group who remain steadfastly against moving towards a more just society? Are we going to be the people who say:
    • Our job is just to keep the order as it is until Jesus returns. Nothing needs to change in the order of the world, just in my heart, in my personal relationship with Jesus.
    • Napoleon: “What is it that makes the poor man take it for granted that ten chimneys smoke in my palace while he dies of the cold – that I have ten changes of raiment in my wardrobe while he is naked – that on my table at each meal there is enough to sustain a family for a week? It is religion, which says to him that in another life I shall be his equal, indeed that he has a better chance of being happy there than I have.”

 

  • Or do we want to be one of the outliers, one of those who works for more justice, for all people to flourish. As Christian Aid’s slogan goes, do we believe in life before death?
    • Or are we propping the injustice of the Napoleons of this world by only advocating for justice after Jesus returns. A justice which colludes with oppression, abuse and violence?

 

  • Amos vs. 4 and 6: Seek me and live.
    • But what does that mean?
    • Orthodoxy and/or orthopraxy
    • Rohr: “The ego diverts your attention from anything that would ask youto change to righteous causes that invariably ask othersto change.”
      • When you look at what your faith requires, does it require more of you changing now? Not previously, when you first became a Christian? But now?  Or is your faith one which is more focussed on what others need to change?  Are you more interested in debates about a sexuality that you personally don’t have, or in examining your own personal sinfulness?
    • Bonhoeffer: “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.” (page 63)
      • Bonhoeffer existed at a time where the majority of Christians in Germany had aligned themselves with the Nazis. At first Hitler and his regime supported the Church, advocated for Jesus and the church. And Christians at that time were delighted!  At last, we get to be taken seriously again, after a time when secularism had been growing thanks to the enlightenment which had, in many places, challenged the idea that God even existed.
      • Hitler declared his mission to be from God and in relationship with Jesus. And Christians generally accepted this.
      • Martin Luther, who we celebrate as the founder of the Reformation, in 1543 wrote a 65,000-word treatise on “The Jews and their lies”, referring to Jews as “poisonous envenomed worms”. Though it is a complex path to trace through history, it is simply not incidental that the Holocaust happened in Germany, the same country Martin Luther had 400 years previously published this terrible and horrifying anti-Semitism.
      • With hindsight, we can see that Martin Luther was atrociously wrong, and that the Christians who supported Hitler were horrifically wrong.
      • But where will future generations see us? Will we be on the side of justice or injustice?  It might be that you say, “I want to be on the side of Jesus”.  But all of these people thought they were on the side of Jesus; Martin Luther with his anti-Semitism, the crusaders who slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t forcibly convert to Christianity, slave owners, the Christians who accompanied colonial forces across the world – enslaving and oppressing entire nations in the name of power and progress, Nazi supporters, opponents of women’s suffrage.  What does it mean to work for justice?

 

  • This is a service for Christian unity. What does unity mean?  Bonhoeffer wrote eloquently about the ways the German church were offering cheap grace and denying the full power of the Gospel.  Was he dividing the church?  Or seeking to reunify it around the truth of the Gospel?  What are we united by?  Believing the same thing or working together for a more just society?

 

  • Unity is a complicated word at the moment isn’t it? We have a country completely divided by that dread word, du-du-duuuuuuuu: Brexit!
    • Me and husband voted different ways, so we are living proof that brexiteers and remainers can stay friends.
    • Yet, with the existing fragmentation in the church, Brexit has become yet another fragmentation. And people have very strong feelings on it, not least because for people of colour and immigrants, Brexit has led to huge increases in the amount of racism and xenophobia they are subjected to.
    • There are some Christians who would say that politics isn’t something we should be involved in, and when it comes to party politics there is an argument for that.
    • However, more generally politics is just a fancy way of saying “how do we organise our society?”And democracy in the West is itself the fruit of Christians working for justice.
    • So while party politics is a different animal, when it comes to Christians engaging politically, we have a responsibility to act for justice, as the passage from Amos reminds us.
      • 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
        and take from them levies of grain,
        you have built houses of hewn stone,
        but you shall not live in them;
        you have planted pleasant vineyards,
        but you shall not drink their wine.
        12 For I know how many are your transgressions,
        and how great are your sins—
        you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
        and push aside the needy in the gate.

        • It’s easy to read this and see ourselves as innocent; we haven’t taken a bribe!
        • But have we pushed aside the needy?
        • When we vote, do we vote for whichever party is going to centre the needy? It’s amazing that churches together are running these ministries that help homeless and vulnerable people, but what are we doing to prevent these sorts of services being needed?  In recent years, homelessness has risen by 165%, that is not okay.  Families in one of the richest nations in the world cannot afford to feed their children. How is that okay?  Are we committed to eradicating homelessness?  To ensuring every family can feed themselves? To ensuring that every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect?
        • As Archbishop Helder Pessoa Camara said, “When I give food to the poor they call me a Saint.When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
      • Verse 14: 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
        • When we go shopping to we consider which brands to buy based on whether they trample on the poor? Nestle have tried to argue that water is not a human right.  Lynx used highly sexualised women to advertise their products.  Some high street clothing brands use child labour and slave labour.  When we buy something we vote for its values and support its ethics (or lack of them). Do we seek to ensure that our purchases don’t trample the poor?  The climate crisis worldwide is affecting the poorest.  What are we doing to limit our consumption?  To change the climate crisis?  Because inevitably the poorest will be worst affected by climate changes.
        • How are we bringing justice?

 

  • 18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
    Why do you want the day of the Lord?
    It is darkness, not light;
    19     as if someone fled from a lion,
    and was met by a bear;
    or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
    and was bitten by a snake.
    20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
    and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

  • This is a prophetic word for our time. How many Christians are awaiting Jesus’ return, so that all can be well, but are not acting to make things better right now?
  • If justice is not rolling down like water, if righteousness is not an ever-flowing stream, then God will despise our festivals, He will take no delight in our solemn assemblies.

 

  • The legacy of many of our church mothers and fathers has been a more just society; free education, free healthcare, care of children, worker’s rights, women’s rights, the criminalisation of slavery, the civil rights movements, liberation theology and more.
    • When Jesus’ mother praises God for her pregnancy she sings this:
      • God’s mercy is from generation to generation
        on those who fear Him.
        He has shown might with His arm,
        He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
        He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
        and has exalted the lowly.
        He has filled the hungry with good things,
        and the rich He has sent away empty.

        • She sings of justice.
      • When Jesus announces His ministry in temple He says:
        • “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
          because he has anointed me
          to bring good news to the poor.
          He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
          and recovery of sight to the blind,
          to let the oppressed go free,
          19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

          • He announces justice.
        • Are we the mighty who will be put down from our thrones and the rich that will be sent away empty? How can we be in solidarity with the most vulnerable?  How can we become a people known for our work towards justice?  How can that become one of the things that we are united around?  I’m not sure I have many answers, but often it starts with acknowledging our failures, or as the Bible calls it And then seeking God’s wisdom in how He is calling us to do justice.

 

  • Jesus transforms us and calls us to obedience, but now we are saved, what are we going to do with our freedom?
    • Let us pray.

Guest Blog – Dear Discomforted

Recently I connected with a Christian woman (let’s call her Jane) who recently realised her husband was abusive.  She was able to leave him and get herself and her children to safety with the support of her family.  As she has learned more about abuse, Jane began realising one of her church leaders’ behaviour towards his wife seemed to be abusive.  She wrote the following letter (that has been anonymised) to this woman.  She is not yet sure whether she is going to send it, but I suggested it would be a really helpful blogpost to help people learn about abuse and particularly how an abuser operates in Christian communities.  She was happy for it to be published on my blog.  I hope it helps you learn more…

 

Dear Discomforted,

 

I’m writing this because I care about what you’ve gone through and are going through.  It’s been hard to know how or whether to contact you. If you’re reading this it’s because I have decided that I simply can’t say or do nothing, and because you’ve recognised that something isn’t quite right, and it might not be your fault. I’m sure there’s a part of you that is confused about what I’m going to say and what this is all about.  I also think that there’s another part of you that knows exactly what this is about, exactly what I’ve seen and exactly what I’m going to say.  It is a strange truth, that you can, in the same moment, be certain of your own pain and grief, but also deny its existence and source.  That was my reality for 8 difficult years.

 

There is of course the chance that I’m wrong about what I think I’ve seen and what I think is happening. You are the only one who really knows and all I can do is share my own personal experience and pray that if anything resonates with you, that you would feel able to pursue a greater understanding for yourself, with an offer from me of support and love in any form you need.  Absolutely anything.  I have come to understand the many resources available to women and how right it is to respond with all the practical and emotional support it is humanly possible to give.  There are also a great number of agencies and professionals who understand and want to help, even ones specifically for women who are married to church leaders and pastors.

 

In my marriage I prayed for, supported, loved and cherished my husband.  I adored him and genuinely found great delight in the good times. In the beginning he was particularly attentive and loving.  Everything I did was impressive and wonderful in his eyes, it felt like I could do nothing wrong and I was completely swept off my feet by a man who I thought was amazing – a Christian, musical, talented, funny, successful, charming…

 

I have since learnt that the cycle of good times and bad times is one of the many strategies of the abuser.  It engenders a deep love and longing for your partner, a belief in their ‘good heart’ even with the sharp edges, a belief that compels you to work harder, be better, try more.  But the more you try, the less you are appreciated, respected, listened to and truly loved.  The more secure he feels in his possession and control of you, the more tactics of abuse and control he uses to keep you there, living under fear and threat.  In the last few years I lived every day not knowing what mood my husband would be in, but being certain that the next assault was never far away – and I’m not talking about physical violence.  Walking on eggshells in your own home is exhausting. It is also the strongest indicator that your partner is an abuser.

 

For some time I knew that I was unhappy in my life, I knew things weren’t great, but I didn’t fully understand that my marriage was the source of that unhappiness.  I kept up a pretence of happiness, love and unity because I wanted that to be my truth.  It was also a way of managing the stress of not being able to talk to anyone about anything I was feeling.  He had convinced me that any outside involvement in our personal stresses and strains was disloyal and showed a lack of integrity and commitment to each other. I could not see the truth that such secrecy and isolation is in fact damaging and not God’s design for human relationship.  It is merely another tool for the abuser to control and manipulate, but my mind, my emotions, my deepest self was so afflicted by the psychological and emotional abuse that I didn’t know what was real or true anymore.

 

He made me believe that my own mental issues were to blame for any dissatisfaction I experienced. My unhappiness was my fault.  Our arguments were due to my inability to communicate well.  Any tears I cried were a demonstration of how manipulative and controlling I was.  My attempts to discipline our children were my anger issues making them cry.  He minimised and deflected any suggestion that there might be something wrong with him or with our marriage.  There were times that I thought I was going mad, such was the heartfelt denial and convincing rhetoric from him over things that I just felt weren’t right.  Somehow I always ended up apologising for hurting him, for not listening to him or not trusting him and never the other way round.

 

Ironically, admitting to my ‘anger issues’ (genuinely believing this was a problem for me) gave me a reason to pursue counselling.  He reluctantly let me attend these sessions, but I was compelled to share everything I had discussed in them, which he often criticised and belittled.  However, my counsellor saw more than I could see and our conversations explored the deeper truths of the anger I was experiencing.  I started to regain clarity in a mind that had long since lost the ability to find it.  Even now I know I am only beginning the journey of healing in terms of the damage to my mind, but these counselling sessions were a vital start.  I honestly don’t know how long I would have been imprisoned and trapped otherwise.

 

When I got married I made my vows for life; I knew how much God hated divorce and how much I hated being the child of divorced parents.  Divorce was not going to be in my future, nor did I think I would even have to consider it.  I was happy and excited to embark on this new adventure with the love of my life.  I trusted him in every way.  I have since learnt that abusers target the most trusting, empathetic of people; we are the easiest to manipulate and control and to accept abuse as our fault.  I fit the bill.  I had always been very empathetic, wanting to help, support and understand the suffering of others, but I was also very naïve and trusting too.  No-one had ever taught me about healthy boundaries in relationships or warning signs of abuse.  I had no idea to even look for them or that such people in this world even existed.

 

After getting married the change in our relationship was gradual and insidious.  Over time, criticisms about my clothes, appearance, friends, family and interests prompted me to give up more and more of the things that made me me.  I became the wife that he wanted me to be because if I tried to exert my independence then I was attacked for being disloyal, for not understanding his needs, for disrespecting him.  I desperately wanted to be a good wife, to make my husband happy and to love him as a good Christian woman should, so I began to bend and compromise and serve. What I didn’t realise was that he did not return that love and respect for me.  He never bent or compromised or served, unless it met his needs, his interests, his desires.  Still somehow I was the one who ended up feeling bad when I challenged him on this.

 

His treatment of me became more obviously abusive as the years went by, but you don’t see it that way when you’re in it.  He convinced me every time that it was just more evidence of how much I antagonised him and didn’t understand him, of how I needed to change, be different, be better, try harder.  When I was pregnant with our first child, we had an argument about going to the cinema; he threw a vase, smashing it on the floor.  He had chased me into the corner of our spare bedroom and I raised my arms in fear of where he was going to throw this vase, but I was the one who ended up apologising for being selfish and causing him to get so angry.  I became accustomed to his anger.  I remember watching how he talked to the girls so nicely sometimes, wishing he would be that nice to me, then I’d tell myself I was being stupid and dismiss the familiar feeling that something wasn’t right.  It was somehow easier to accept his assertions that I was to blame for him being late for work, for the children not liking their dinner, for buying the ‘wrong’ toothpaste or toilet roll.  He never took responsibility for anything himself, which is another sure sign of abuse.

 

In the back of my mind I excused it all because he seemed such a great Daddy and I couldn’t deny his relationship with his children.  However, having some distance and professional support, I’ve been able to see the abuse they suffered too, not least in witnessing the abuse I was subjected to, where my oldest would often try to defend me.  My youngest once commented “Daddy doesn’t like Mummy very much.” A mother is not protecting her children by accepting abusive behaviour from their father.  In many ways the opposite is true.

 

If any of this feels familiar, then another aspect for you would be the ministry of your husband. How can you be responsible for the demise of his ministry, where he is doing so much good for so many people? Such responsibility is not in fact yours, it’s his, but this must be so hard for pastors’ wives who go through this. I have read the testimonies of a few and it seems that this is the very argument their husbands use in order to heap guilt on them for even contemplating that there’s something wrong in their marriage.  However, the thing these women seem to say is that they knew deep down that their husband’s ministry was not the fruitful, Godly ministry that many professed it to be. In fact, these wives had repeatedly seen hurt and discord as a result of their husband’s behaviour.

 

I’m sorry to say that your husband has been directly responsible for a great deal of my own personal hurt – suggesting I might be pursuing a new relationship in the immediate aftermath of my decision to divorce, and that I would lie to the girls about their father and countless other insensitive and inappropriate comments and actions.  I felt like I was being treated with suspicion, not love, judgement, not grace. My last communication was an email I wrote to your husband, my pastor, that was challenging, but respectful and honest.  I wrote it with great care, out of a desperate concern for three things – 1) my own healing; 2) providing every opportunity for my husband to come to true repentance and change and 3) ensuring that the church I loved was a safe place for abused women to come forward.  To date I have had no reply from a man who was employed to be my pastor. I am living outside of any church fellowship at the moment because I don’t know who to trust and what to tell people.  This is surely the time I needed the pastoral support and resources of the church I’ve called home all these years. Instead I feel abandoned by the church at large and supported only by a handful of friends from my fellowship who have chosen to remain in touch.

 

You are very dear to me, and I can only imagine how hard it may be to read this and how difficult it may be to process even a fraction of what I’ve said.  I suppose I decided that this was still the right course of action because I wish that someone had done this for me.  I wish that someone had said “Hey, I’ve seen how your husband treats you and it’s wrong.  You don’t have to put up with it.  He has broken your wedding vows by choosing to abuse you instead of loving, cherishing and respecting you.  That is not your fault.  God doesn’t like divorce, but he hates abuse even more.”

 

You are beautiful, loved and cherished, made by God to fulfil His purposes for your life, not the purposes of your husband.  I have not liked how I’ve seen him treat you, I recognised so much of the subtle behaviours and dynamics that were true in my marriage.  I saw him ignore and belittle your health concerns over drinking wine that night, I saw him disrespect you by giving you barely any acknowledgement or attention when you explained how he likes to be on time for things, with no mention at all of your preferences and needs; I saw a complete lack of interest in praising and acknowledging you when you heaped praise on him.  You do not deserve to be treated like that.  If you are being abused, you have a right to divorce and a right to know true freedom.

 

I am currently reading scriptures that explore our identity in Christ.  It is so affirming and life-changing after allowing even my relationship with God to be weakened and diminished by my marriage.  There is so much more I could say and so much more I am happy to tell you if you want to speak, but in the meantime, seek after God and His truth, trust Him, follow Him.  He is our only constant, a bright light in the darkness.  If you want an informal, anonymous chat with people who know what abuse is and how to recognise the red flags, then there is also the national domestic abuse helpline – 0808 2000 247

 

I will continue to pray. Get in touch any time, when you feel it is safe to do so.  I am very familiar with the fear instilled by an abusive partner.  I know how they promote that fear in you so that you offer complete submission to them, always telling them everything to show that you’re loyal and supportive, constantly reiterating your love for and commitment to them, as I saw you do that time when you patted his leg and praised what a great husband you had. He was so tellingly cold and unresponsive to this, I couldn’t help but feel desperately sad. I know that if I had received a letter like this during my marriage I would have felt both relief and intense fear.  Relief that my experience finally had a name – abuse – and that it was not my fault, but fear over what would happen next if I began to try and regain the control and independence that was rightfully mine.

 

I would not advise that you speak to your husband about this, unless you are absolutely certain that this is not at all your experience.  I do not care about my reputation here.  If I’m wrong, that’s wonderful!  However, if there is any part of you that has read this and is feeling even a little disturbed or disrupted then get help and advice.  You are not alone and you are worth fighting for. Living under someone else’s control is not living – it’s imprisonment and you need to get out, but it is your decision and such a choice is risky, scary and dangerous without the right support and help.

 

Of course, if I have misread things please forgive me and know that you always have my utmost respect. Either way, feel free to get in touch any time.

 

Yours,

A loving friend who has been there

 

If any of this seems relevant to your life or the life of someone you care about, you can find your local domestic abuse service here: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-abuse-directory/.