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After listening to Christians who’ve suffered trauma stemming from spousal abuse recount how the people they turned to for support within the church failed to help them, Helena Lovejoy-Knowlton, who herself suffered years of abuse within her marriage, took up the challenge of ministering to women who felt abandoned by those they thought were most equipped to help them.

As part of The Christian Post’s ongoing coverage of the often hidden trauma of spousal abuse, the lay counselor told CP that she benefited immensely from trauma-informed care and wanted to share with others what she had learned. 

Out of a desire to helpwomen who had endured similar abuse, Lovejoy-Knowlton began ARISE Healing Community, which opened in January 2020.Abused as a child, she went on to marry a covert abuser and survive what she described as “a 19-year marriage of hell.” 

Though she ultimately found the courage to divorce her husband, her health was already deteriorating. 

Yet when she started learning about covert abuse and narcissism and realized she had endured both, she wanted to help women in similar situations. But before she could start helping others, she spent two years in talk therapy and later became so ill that she claims she nearly died. After a year of coping with illnesses, she spent three years in trauma therapy.

That was the game-changer, she said. 

From that experience, she felt called to launch a website and Facebook group called Confusion to Clarity. The group helps other women detect covert abusers and navigate their way through emotional and spiritual abuse.

When Christians suffering spousal abuse approach church leaders for support, some find that their churches are ill-equipped or lack the resources to deal with the issue effectively. 

“If someone has truly repented, God treats that sinner the same as all sinners — with forgiveness. But some abusers don’t repent, yet they count on being treated with mercy anyway,” Lovejoy-Knowlton writes on her website, addressing the challenges people face when dealing with abuse.

Complicating matters further for some churches is how they, according to their tradition and theology, define “abuse” and what they consider legitimate grounds for separation and divorce. 

“I started to see that women were really struggling with their panic, fear, confusion, anxiety, being numb and other trauma reactions,” Lovejoy-Knowlton said. “But they were blaming themselves for all these responses because no one in the Christian community was explaining that these were God-given survival reactions to abuse and threat.” 

These reactions are normal for one-time threats, but when enduring repeated abuse, victims are in a constant state of fear and on high alert all the time. Christians who experience this often feel weak and like they’re in sin just because they have these fear responses.

Drawing from her knowledge and experience, the lay counselor recounted that church leaders sometimes respond by offering platitudes, like, “We are all sinners,” or victims are reminded that “The man is the head of the household and he’s the covering” or “He’s a Christian, you need to respect your husband no matter what.”

Seeing the need for additional faith-based resources, she started doing research and taking classes from experts in the field, like Bessel van der Kolk, author of the famous book The Body Keeps the Score,where she learned about how intricately the brain is connected to the entire body and an individual’s overall health.

The cognitive-behavioral models of counseling did nothing for Lovejoy-Knowlton, and she eventually learned why. She required more help because trauma, by nature, turns off the cognitive brain.

As she continued her journey she learned various tools to send messages from the brain to the nervous system and vice-versa to calm a trauma and rewire the brain. According to The Body Keeps the Score, after trauma, “the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their lives.”

“These attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune diseases. This explains why it is critical for trauma treatment to engage the entire organism, body, mind, and brain,” he explains in the book.  

Equipped with this newfound knowledge, Lovejoy-Knowlton started a program for abuse survivors to help them understand what was going on with their bodies, with the goal of helping them heal and learn how to emotionally reconnect with their inner strength that the abuse damaged. She also wanted to provide a place for women to reconnect with Jesus and untangle the warped teachings and untruths they had picked up over the years.  

“What I see [happening] is that beautiful Scripture that what the enemy meant for evil, God has turned to good. It’s a beautiful thing to be experiencing,” she said of her work.  

The pain of being misunderstood in the church

Unfortunately, some churches are contributing further trauma to already traumatized victims by what they are teaching, particularly regarding how they respond to abuse survivors.

In her Facebook group of approximately 4,500 members, 580 recently answered a series of unscientific poll questions. Eighty-nine percent responded by saying they had been diagnosed with some form of PTSD, compounded when they felt churches minimized their abuse or spiritualized the issue. 

“When we’re abused, our body gets stuck in a trauma state and it causes a total dysregulation of our body’s nervous system, the chemicals in our body and so much more. Being in that stuck trauma state is not a choice, it’s a survival mechanism. And so, even after we leave the abuse that state continues because our body and brain are so dysregulated. It’s like an engine revving high all the time or unable to start,” Lovejoy-Knowlton said. 

The connection between the body and thoughts is evident in common vernacular and phrases that many use, she added, such as: “I was worried sick;” “I had butterflies in my stomach;” “He made my skin crawl;” “I was all choked up;” “My heart sank;” “I was scared stiff.”

“Some church leaders are ignoring the body and the heart-brain connection, and they think that prayer or renewing the mind is the solution for absolutely everything. But if you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t try to heal it with only prayer.” 

“The brain is the body,” she stressed. 

Henrietta Knox, a psychologist and licensed professional counselor of 20 years who leads a therapy practice called Arise Counseling Service in Eugene, Oregon, (not affiliated with Knowlton’s ministry of the same name), recounted to CP in a phone interview that she fell into the trauma field and gained experience after meeting clients who needed extensive care.

Many of these clients suffered from PTSD and trauma from many kinds of abuse in both childhood and adulthood. Her practice employs 31 therapists, helping both Christians and non-Christians alike. Many Christians seek her out because they want a therapist who understands and respects their faith. 

“Human beings are equipped to survive and their whole system is focused around how they survive. This is why, for example, one experiences fear, as it is part of the warning system,” Knox said. 

“When we experience events that are more than we can handle, our brain doesn’t process those experiences like it processes normal experiences. Information is stored in the brain and in the body, and with those memories, our brain will learn to respond differently to things that are similar to our bad experiences,” Knox added. 

”Trauma is an overreaction of the brain and body to a stimulus in the present because it belongs to something in the past. All kinds of trauma can do this, and when it is from covert abuse it is an insidious form of abuse and manipulation in that it can be hard to identify. When a covert abuser uses manipulation tactics to grind a victim down and keep them under control, over time the victim becomes powerless and unable to recognize all that is occurring. 

“It’s a very confusing process,” she continued. “Covert abuse is marked by the survivor being very doubtful of themselves, doubtful of their own judgment, not trusting of themselves anymore, feeling like they are the problem, that they are crazy.”

Meanwhile, the abusers can appear to everyone as calm, confident and charismatic, and they are capable of making other people believe something completely different about their spouses or partners.

In her early days as a Christian, Lovejoy-Knowlton underwent a form of counseling in a church context that takes a victim through a process of repenting and forgiving. This counseling, she recounted, “was very much to my detriment,” as she was told that she had to repent for the sexual abuse she endured as a child.

Looking back, she can hardly believe that she was told to do that. But as a new Christian, she simply trusted that counselor who was ostensibly trying to help. She would later realize how off-base it all was, that the counseling she endured failed to ever consider that there are people who are genuinely victimized and oppressed, always assuming equality between the parties in any event.

Other churches embrace talk therapy psychology, but they put a supposedly “biblical” spin on it. This also proves to be largely ineffective because what it amounts to is one’s thoughts are creating their feelings. Thus, in order to change their feelings, all one has to do is renew their mind with truth. While that can help abused spouses in many ways, they often need more than that to recover.

The widely misunderstood trauma factor

With medical advances and developments, neuroscientists can peer into the brain and actually see the neurological effects of trauma on its lobes. 

“God did tremendous things for me by helping me get free from my abusive marriage, but then I hit the wall of still needing to do the trauma work,” Lovejoy-Knowlton said of her own recovery process. 

“He does beautiful things with renewing the mind and helping us see the truth. And then so many women hit the wall and then they are wondering five years later, ‘Why am I having panic attacks? What is wrong with me?’”

“Traumatic stress has little to do with cognition. It emanates from the emotional part of the brain that is rewired to constantly send out messages of danger and distress that becomes difficult to be fully alive; this is not about something you think or figure out. It’s about your body having been reset to interpret the world as a terrifying place and yourself as being unsafe,” she added, referencing a passage in van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.

Put simply, telling women to pray or simply change their thoughts isn’t enough. Women are getting revictimized, shamed, and blamed because they are told that their struggles are coming from believing the wrong things or from not having enough faith or trusting God enough. This phenomenon is evident in Scripture, she noted, pointing to the betrayal and torment that David endured at the hands of Saul. 

“In the Psalms, he is so out there with his pain and even his physical symptoms and yet nobody accused him of not having enough faith,” Lovejoy-Knowlton said.  

“An abused woman can go into a church and pretty much say the same thing that David did in the Psalms, and she is accused of not having enough faith or being backslidden or all sorts of other things.”

When women end up living in high-cortisol and high-adrenaline states, their biochemistry is out of sorts and the body starts breaking down. Although admittedly not a scientific empirical analysis, of the hundreds of trauma sufferers Lovejoy-Knowlton polled in her group, 83% reported having chronic conditions.

While many womenwho have not suffered trauma experience such maladies and there could be other reasons for their illnesses, the most common ones Knowlton-Lovejoy hears about from those she serves are various cancers, autoimmune disorders attacking different areas of the body, adrenal failure, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, food allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue, migraines, high blood pressure, eczema, and hormonal imbalances.

It is that breakdown of the body precipitated by traumatic stress that raises many questions and pastoral considerations about how to handle and define “abuse.” Many understand that, for example, a man who punches his wife and leaves an ugly bruise on her face is indeed abusive, and the act of striking her is, quite obviously, physical abuse. With a pattern of covert, narcissistic abuse, however, even though the damage to the abuse victim is not as visible as a bruise on the face, imaging scans can now reveal the injury of traumatic stress on the victim’s brain. Since the brain is the physical body, is this not also abuse? 

Jennifer Bauwens, who has a Ph.D. in social work from New York University and is the director of the Center for Family Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., wrote her doctoral dissertation on trauma responses to Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in modern U.S. history. 

For churches and the general public, there can be misattribution of some of the symptoms of trauma to be seen in people enduring it as relationship problems, substance abuse, or in the case of children, delinquent behavior, she explained in an interview with CP. Many people see what’s happening on the surface but do not stop to inquire about the underlying source.

“Most of the time, you can trace those back to some kind of trauma, and the problem with not recognizing the source is that they’re not properly treated. We might treat substance abuse and just try to get people to stop using [certain] drugs,” Bauwens said.

“But then what happens is that the trauma symptoms emerge. So you’ve taken away the person’s coping mechanism without giving them a replacement for dealing with the symptoms.” 

Trauma is often highly individualized, she continued. Some responses are more typical. If someone grew up in a stable, loving home but then endured something clearly traumatic as an adult, like a rape, that person will have a standard PTSD symptom set. 

“So imagine that person in the church and you’re interacting with someone who can’t seem to have stable relationships, there’s no intimacy, or maybe there is a lot of control in their life. And oftentimes those people get dismissed [in the Church] because they are just difficult to deal with,” she said.

Additionally, some fail to recognize the difference between what Bauwens refers to as “big-T” traumatic events, which cause chronic trauma symptoms, dissociation or PTSD, and “little-t traumas,” which are easier to dismiss. 

But those smaller things also shape processing and behavior patterns, and if they are not dealt with they are going to produce unhealthy ways of interacting with the world.

Referencing a number of her students she has encountered during her years in academia, Bauwens mentioned she finds it uncanny how many reported being verbally abused and belittled by teachers in elementary school. Since children are cognitively capable of processing that demeaning behavior, they internalize the cruel words, and it later affects how they relate to authority figures even as adults, often living in fear that their work is going to be mocked and ridiculed. 

How can churches help? 

According to Lovejoy-Knowlton, above all, the Church must become a safe place for victims. If the church can’t be safe, she asks, what is it even for? 

“It’s just so basic. Jesus stood up for that woman who was about to be stoned (John 7:53-8:1–11), and that was probably a very traumatic experience for her. And we need a safe community to heal,” she said. 

“We’ve been isolated by our abusers and victimized by the Church every step of the way, and that spiritual abuse is adding more trauma. And so the church has to improve their approach in every stage of our journey from what they are teaching about marriage to how they respond to us when we come to them for help, to how they treat women who are having trauma symptoms.”

A significant contributing factor is the failure to understand the nature of evil and how it works. In a church, people can come off as angels of light, she maintains, and not everyone who claims to be a believing Christian actually is one.

“Abusers intentionally lie and intentionally pretend and misguide and say all the right words so people in the church need to look deeper and stop believing this angel of light, this wolf that is pretending to be a sheep. And they need to start being humble enough that when they think they are being right about this and are being loving toward an abuser to help him change, they are just being played by a manipulator,” Lovejoy-Knowlton said. 

Churches sometimes treat PTSD reactions as character flaws or sins, but they are neither, she added.

Desperate to be heard, the woman’s body is in a state it can’t control. Meanwhile, covert abusive husbands can often be calm and seen as logical and rational. 

Physiologically, the human nervous system communicates with that of another with mirror neurons.

“When somebody can sit with a suffering trauma survivor and be calm and loving and compassionate, they are helping her regulate her whole nervous system. And that’s a very powerful thing and something I think Jesus was probably doing with traumatized people when he was walking the earth,” she said. 

“We know that women who get support from their churches heal so much faster and do so much better.” 

Asked what it is like when the proverbial light bulb goes off and victims realize that God was not the sponsor of their abuse, she mentioned that it entails a revisiting of some of the most basic, first-order doctrines about who God is. 

For many, it requires letting go of the distorted cliche-like things they have read in books or heard on Christian radio stations that “God wants you to suffer for a purpose,” “He brought this to you for a reason” or “God will heal all your illnesses without you having to do anything for your trauma.” 

One of the basic doctrines of the faith that is often twisted is that God is sovereign and, therefore, His power trumps free will and is greater than evil and the systems in the world. Women start to believe that when God doesn’t come through for them when they have been taught in the Church that He will, it shatters their faith in that they feel totally betrayed by God. 

“And then we’re told we’re in sin if we’re afraid. Well, women have a good reason to be afraid,” she said. 

“Imagine a world where the Church did what the Bible said, that cast out the wolves and stood by the woman and believed her and helped her get free, supported her kids. And interrupted the alienation that the father was trying to pit the children against the mother. And helped her understand her trauma responses. That would increase women’s faith. Because they would be seeing Jesus in action, supporting the widow and orphans.”

Abuse, spiritual warfare and Ephesians 6

When abused wives come to understand covert abuse and realize the psychological torment they are enduring from their spouse, they usually realize that they are not married to a believing Christian. The nature of evil also becomes more apparent.

What often follows these realizations is yet another realization that they are angry at God. But they also discover that the sense of betrayal by God is actually misplaced. Their ill feelings about what has happened to them should be directed to a dysfunctional church system and toward the evil that was, for whatever reason, operating within it. 

The way in which some women who are a part of Confusion to Clarity ended up reconnecting with the Lord was by leaving churches altogether, some for a substantial time. 

Though wickedness manifests in many ways, Lovejoy-Knowlton believes that women and children who are being abused are well-acquainted with the unseen celestial battle between good and evil that is expressed in Ephesians 6:12. The verse speaks of wrestling “not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities and spiritual wickedness in high places. Yet, humans have free will and they choose which kingdom they serve, whether light or darkness, God or Satan. 

“The enemy doesn’t have a body, so he uses human beings who are aligned with his kingdom to do his will in this world,” she said.  

“And so when a human being chooses to follow the enemy kingdom, he becomes entwined with the enemy spirit. And no matter how much he is pretending to be a sheep he is serving the enemy kingdom. And in 10 minutes in one of my gatherings … you’ll hear about purely evil, wicked behaviors that blatantly come from the enemy kingdom not from God, that it’s demonic activity in human form, blatant stuff.” 

But much of the church is blind to this “because they want to help the men who say they are Christians,” Lovejoy-Knowlton explained. 

“But they don’t want to believe that there is somebody that they know who is choosing to follow the Enemy and pretend to be a sheep — that’s the tipping point.”

The lay counselor is quick to remind people that the Bible has provided so many descriptions of evil in human form and what such a person looks like and how he acts. For example, “the words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart. His words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords,” she said, quoting Psalm 55:21.

“We should not be having fellowship with wickedness, (Eph 5:11) but the Church is going to have to acknowledge wickedness to follow through with that Scripture. It never ceases to astound me how ignorant the Church is at identifying evil and wickedness. Aren’t we the ones who are supposed to be doing that?”

Abuse victims see and understand it clearly as they’ve seen and lived it up close and personal because “when a man has turned his will completely over to the enemy all the warfare in the world can’t stop him,” she said.  

A covert abuse survivor speaks

Alicia Smith from the Twin Cities area in Minnesota (not her real name or location) knows this unfortunate reality all too well. She described in a CP interview the process of distancing herself from her abusive ex-husband as fraught with near-constant confusion because he also knew how to appear and act like a kind person. She was married to her ex-husband for 31 years and has now been separated from him for approximately two years.

The mixture of good and bad behavior sent her spiraling into a state of disarray as he would emotionally abandon her, not show up to meet obligations he promised her, be permanently distracted by phone calls, rarely if ever be available, or give her the silent treatment. If she asked him what was wrong, he’d offer a strange explanation that did not make any sense. Year after year of this unrelenting confusion and manipulation caused Alicia to suffer terrible migraine headaches that she could not explain. 

“Looking back, there really was nothing. It was purely to torment me. But then, he could be so kind and helpful,” she said of the intense mental anguish. 

Approximately five years ago, the psychologically spinning would not stop, and she found herself unable to stop crying. Unable to articulate what was wrong with any precision, life was an “anxious, crazy mess,” she said.  

What finally broke through the fog was when she, with her ex-husband’s agreement, allowed a young woman facing an unintended pregnancy to live in their home. This young woman’s boyfriend was also narcissistic and so she started researching narcissism. Alicia started realizing how familiar it all seemed, and how manipulative behavior, though sometimes hard to detect, was purposeful. 

“It took me so long to wrap my head around that because I couldn’t comprehend how someone could be that cruel. Even talking about it is so hard,” she said. 

Her daughters have seen the situation as she does, but speaking about covert emotional abuse is a difficult topic to discuss. When speaking of a specific behavior, it sounds like something that could happen in any relationship or not that big of a deal, that it could happen in any relationship. But with covert emotional abuse, it was a continuous, grinding pattern of slowly chipping away at her identity. 

The way he would greet her when he would get home was “What did you do today?” very coldly, and his eyes would zoom in on every imperfection in the house. 

“It didn’t matter. In his head, I was a terrible housekeeper. And he had to keep that lie going,” she explained.

On one particular day, she went out of her way to clean the entire house from top to bottom and make sure it was nearly immaculate. She involved all the kids in the cleaning process and they had fun as a family in so doing. The only area they did not clean was a portion of a countertop in the basement. 

When her husband got home and saw that everything was gleaming, his face was shocked, and then he became furious. Then he started charging around the house, looking in the kids’ rooms upstairs and bathrooms, all of which were spic-and-span. After that, he went down into the basement and saw the lone uncleaned countertop. Alicia and her kids had seen him charge around the other rooms and were bewildered as to what he was doing so they followed him down to the basement. Her husband then exploded in rage and started screaming about a family that he knew would never have a mess in their basement, even as the rest of the house was spotless.  

“It was insane. I didn’t know what to say. I thought he was mentally ill at the time. Meanwhile, all the kids? Their faces were completely devastated,” Alicia said. 

Her youngest child, who is now 12 but was three years old at the time and had helped clean the house that day, still struggles to clean because of the painful memory of his father’s frothing fury that day. To this day, he has panic attacks and freaks out when it is time to clean. 

When a victim of covert abuse shows up in Knox’s office for therapy, they are usually beset with all kinds of symptoms. It takes time to realize that those systems are in direct relation to the person who is mistreating them. It often takes an outside person to help the victim untangle their confusion and understand the toxic dynamics that, though their lives are miserable and they know they need help, they have come to accept it as normal. Realizing that what they are experiencing is indeed not normal is a significant step in the recovery journey. 

“I have to remind people frequently, and it can take a while before they can actually grasp that belief and trust their judgment about their beliefs,” Knox explained.

It is the therapist’s job to challenge that confusion. It can also take a while for the survivor to reconsider their self-perception and for them to entertain the view that they were not culpable in the abuse, she said. 

“It’s very, very common for Christian covert abusers to be very powerful in their church communities. They are usually very charming, and very confident. Most people would be very impressed with them,” Knox said.  

Rushing to forgiveness devalues what the abuse victim endured, Knox explained. 

“What I find very sad is there is often so much hammering of forgiveness on the victim. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, yes, I agree that forgiveness sets us free, but that is not the first message you give to an abuse survivor,” she emphasized.

What is particularly destructive is how it is overemphasized, as if moving a victim quickly along to forgiveness will quickly clear everything up. 

“That’s just too simple of an answer. It’s a true answer but too simple to say to a traumatized person,” she said.  

Alicia now understands that her narcissistic husband’s narrative about her – that she was a terrible housekeeper –was just that, a narrative he had cooked up in his head. When she dared to prove it untrue by going out of her way to have an immaculate home, even that wasn’t good enough. For daring to prove him wrong, his volcanic anger was his way of punishing her.

“What I was supposed to do was clean parts but never all to make him happy about the mess. It sounds crazy when I say it, but I would never clean too much. But this time, I did, and he punished me big time for it because then he had no bad story. I was supposed to take the fall,” she said.  

The Minnesota mom of four wound up finding Confusion to Clarity through the young woman who was living with them, first through articles from the Marriage Recovery Center.

Lovejoy-Knowlton’s blend of biblical wisdom, sincere Christian faith, and knowledge of trauma recovery resonated with her. Alicia has since begun EMDR therapy — which some Christians have mistakenly believed is rooted in New Age teachings — after a counselor confirmed that she had signs of complex PTSD.

One year after she got married she developed migraines and asthma, physical ailments she had never dealt with previously. But one day, he crossed a line, claiming he was going to get a gang to chase after one of his business clients that owed him money. He told Alicia that he saw the horror on her face and then pretended that it was all a big joke and that he had done nothing. 

“I saw this demonic glee in him. He was ecstatically happy that he had hurt me that badly,” Alicia said. “He carried something with him that is hard to describe. I would say it’s like he’s tied up in black ropes, this dark tension around him constantly where there is always something wrong.”

The evil and spiritual darkness emanating from his countenance was so apparent during this particular instance that it didn’t seem like it was even him staring back at her. 

Her ex-husband ended up admitting that he had indeed done something hurtful, crying tears of regret. But when they went to Christian counseling to revisit that episode, he reverted back to denial and the counselor was unable to help them. As she drove away from that meeting, she found herself saying aloud: “I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to …”

“I let myself hear for the first time that she didn’t want to be married to this man. I don’t want to be around him. He’s evil and gross. Why would I expose myself to this person? It was horrible.”

Alicia knew then that something had to give. 

“I do believe I would be dead right now had I not decided to change. My body and mind were shutting down,” she said.

The proverbial light bulb went off in her head with the gal living with them mentioned that she had observed how the abuse affected her and told her what she saw.

When it came to separating herself from the toxicity, however, in the minds of certain people she thought she could trust, some options were off the table. A family member who is a deacon in the church told her that she can never divorce him, minimizing what she experienced, telling her that he was sure she could handle it. 

“The godly thing to do was to continue waiting and trusting that he would repent and perhaps when he’s 92, he’ll really change and they can have a happy marriage for the last six months before one of them dies,” she recalled, speaking of his advice. 

“I could separate for abuse but never divorce,” she said.

The journey of recovery 

“It’s called covert for a reason. I struggled so hard to figure it out. There is a genuine kind side to my husband. I know that they call this cognitive dissonance when you think a person is actually nice when they’re not, but I believe that there is a real side to him that is kind, but I don’t have to allow myself to be abused anymore,” Alicia said. 

“And I don’t have to figure him out. I can forgive him for what he did, and I can give him to God.” 

Bauwens believes God cares about it all, “the big-T and the little-t traumas and everything in between.”

Mentioning Judith Herman’s watershed book Trauma and Recovery,she pointed out that trauma is so dicey for many because it is a genuinely fearful thing to consider that something truly terrible could happen to them. 

“It’s also hard to admit that this indeed is going on in our world. Just as denial works for the trauma victim, I think it works for society at large to keep it at bay from our own experience, from entering into our own consciousness,” Bauwens said. 

While working at a feminist-oriented domestic violence shelter in New York, when Christian women would come in for refuge, she was often assigned to their cases because they shared a similar theological understanding of the world and could connect spiritually.

Although some of their pastors were supportive, she said, it was disheartening to see other clergy and church leaders take Scripture wildly out of context to keep women entrapped or use it as a weapon. Without question, the Scripture that was most often twisted was Ephesians 5:22, which refers to wives submitting to their husbands. 

But that passage is never coupled with the charge to submit one to another or said in full context where the husband is charged to lay his life down, loving her as Christ loved the church, or that spouses are to represent the heart of God in marriage, she said. 

“It happened all the time in the shelters. And you know, when you look at it? The letter kills, and the Spirit gives life,” Bauwens offered. 

“And whenever you’re doing ministry or especially trauma counseling you so need the Holy Spirit to guide you. Because once we become evidence-based practitioners in prayer ministry, we’re in trouble. And the Holy Spirit is not cookie-cutter [in His approach]. We need His guidance to know the timing and to know what to address when.”

Psychological abuse is often more confusing than physical or even sexual abuse. Such abuse leaves no marks on the body that are visible to the naked eye, and there is no visible evidence that something is wrong. 

“Most of the time when I would see someone in the shelter, there were other components of abuse, but certainly psychological abuse is very harmful and can do the same work of intimidation and keeping a person controlled.”

Asked if trauma ever goes away, Bauwens reiterated how individualized it is. 

“A lot of it is going to depend on a person’s unique characteristics and what that person is bringing to the table before the traumatic event happened and when the event happened, what kind of support did they have around them?” she said.

“I see the misuse of Scripture as a form of spiritual abuse. It’s using the Word of God just in the same way that Scripture was used for [supporting] slavery. It was taken out of context to keep people in bondage. We always have to be aware of the misuse of Scripture to put another human being down and to keep them controlled. So anytime we’re using Scripture to demote someone? We know those are the fingerprints of witchcraft. Jesus, by contrast, is always elevating people. He’s always elevating women.”

Bauwens believes that ministering to this is going to be a vital task for Christians in the coming days. 

“If I could say anything to the Church it would be: Get ready and learn how to become someone who sets the captives free. Because we have a lot of people that need healing and this is how we reach them, with truth and compassion. Truth and mercy have kissed.”

“And we need to know how to unwrap Lazarus, and learn how to unwrap the children who have grown up in a traumatized culture.”

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Postscript from CP Editors: 

“Clearly, the information provided to The Christian Post biblically underlines the fact that Christian churches need to expand the definition of “abuse” and ask the Lord to help us find new and meaningful ways to respond redemptively. After all, Jesus explained to us in the New Testament (Matthew 5:21-22) that if you hated someone you had murdered them in their heart and that if you had lusted after someone you had already committed adultery(Matthew 5:27-28).

Similarly, domestic abuse is far more than the definition we’ve traditionally given to ‘physical abuse.’ Accordingly, we are especially interested in hearing from pastors, clinical psychologists, and other professionals to share with CP ideas as to how the Church can more satisfactorily address these issues.”

Send news tips to: brandon.showalter@christianpost.com Listen to Brandon Showalter’s Life in the Kingdom podcast at The Christian Post and edifi app Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalter Follow on Twitter: @BrandonMShow





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