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A Divorced Couple Shares Their Experience with Spiritual Abuse

The congregation was in upheaval, furious that the pastor was not helping the woman. Meanwhile, the church leadership over the pastor was telling him to handle the problem. So he called a last-minute emergency meeting—which ended without resolving anything. Peter says he walked away from that meeting with a sense of, “There’s no right answer. The leadership is completely at a loss.”

Because the church was in an uproar, the denomination’s leaders eventually relocated the pastor to a different church to stabilize the situation. They did this without addressing what had happened or saying whether he had done anything wrong. The woman who was being abused ended up leaving her husband and the church.

This example of spiritual abuse and the apparent failure of the Bible to protect this woman were instrumental in Peter walking away from his faith later on. 


“For me, my own personal deconstruction, was about 80 percent our marriage,” says Peter.  

The church viewed marriage very simply, as already noted. Per Ephesians 5, men were to love their wives like Christ loved the church. Women were to submit to their husbands as to Christ. If you were a married man or woman, what more did you need to know? 

Peter now believes that if that view of marriage happens to work for two people, then great. But what if there are deeper problems that need to be resolved? The couple might not be capable of connecting. They might not be compatible. They might have individual brokenness that needs to be addressed. 

“There are times when the relationship is broken at its core and there are problems that have absolutely nothing to do with the very romantic ideas of ‘love and submission,’” he says. “Love and submission are great…but they have to be on a framework that supports them. I think, for the two of us, the church was wholly incapable of seeing anything else that was ablaze in our relationship.”

Both Peter and Katie agree that at that time, Katie was consumed by fear, a struggle that was not unlike being an addict. Says Peter, when you simply try to “love” an addict without putting up boundaries, all that ends up happening is you feed that person’s addiction. The result was the advice to “love your wife” actually meant “stop the world from spinning every day because Katie’s having a crisis.” And for her part, he doesn’t believe she was at a place where the advice to submit to him made sense. “It was just a whirlwind of bad advice,” he says, that really came to mean, “Just hope for the best.” 

In the end, says Peter, “It completely undid my faith…Not only did the Bible ultimately not point me in the direction that would have been helpful, but the Bible and everyone who did their best to stick to the Bible literally pointed me in the wrong direction. It became painfully counterproductive. And with that as the one big crack, the more I started obsessively reading and studying how people work, how we connect with each other, it became clear to me that, just, the whole thing fell to pieces.”

Now he would say to young married people, “Don’t take your marriage for granted…become keenly aware of the value of that human connection that you’ve made, above everything else that’s swirling around, grabbing your attention. Don’t take that connection for granted.” 

Finding Jesus

For Katie, the breakdown of her marriage was the pathway to a complete rebirth of her relationship with Christ. She agrees with Peter’s assessment that she was an addict to fear and says that in the past, one of her biggest fears in life was being abandoned. She was so afraid of Peter leaving her that sometimes she would hide his car keys after they would fight. “I was an addict to anxiety,” she says. “I was an addict to fear and worry and worst-case scenario.” But when Peter left her, she was forced to truly deal with that demon.

“When he left, that was my rock bottom,” she says, “and that was when I picked myself up, and I allowed the Lord, I allowed Christ to direct every step of my life. I had to rely so heavily on Christ that my relationship with the Lord exploded out of the pit, out of the absolute depths.”