I recently read World Magazine’s Hidden Violence story, and I knew I needed to step forward and share my experience with Bethlehem Baptist in the Twin Cities (John Piper’s former church).
World’s story covered a deeply rooted problem in the conservative church of America, but toward the end, they quote Jason Meyer (lead pastor at Bethlehem Baptist) and a member of DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team), Kirsten Christianson, at Bethlehem, making it sound like Bethlehem Baptist is on the cutting edge of dealing with DV issues in their own pews.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have several reasons for sharing my story.
1. Bethlehem is an unsafe environment for domestic abuse victims, but they have postured themselves otherwise (more HERE and HERE). While they do address the most egregious forms of domestic abuse, they actually foster an environment for the more prevalent and covert forms of domestic abuse to flourish.
2. The gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake. When human beings control others using the Word of God, they blaspheme the Name of Jesus (Romans 2:17-24). How many victims and/or their older children won’t step foot in a church anymore because an abusive church shunned them for trying to get to a place of safety? This is not the heart of Jesus. It’s law over love, and it’s a sideways spit in the face of God.
3. I want to inspire and encourage victims to be willing to lose their reputation and the approval of men in exchange for the peace and joy that comes when we live for God, alone. He is our righteous judge. He is our King. We bow to nobody but Jesus Christ. To be burned at the stake for telling the uncomfortable truth is painful, but those fires produce something powerful that the enemy can’t touch. It is this power that is sweeping the world right now, exposing the hidden places where abuse thrives. People are small. God is big. This is where we stand.
Your voice matters, and so does mine.
I believe the root sin of abuse is misogyny: the underlying assumption that men are superior to women. Spiritually abusive churches would deny propagating misogyny, but their words and actions don’t match. The way they treat women, what they teach about “a woman’s place,” and how they handle cases of emotional abuse all reveal this destructive belief system.
This is the attitude I encountered at Bethlehem, and until this attitude is eradicated, Bethlehem Baptist and churches like her will continue to hurt women while jumping in bed with their abusers.
Kirsten Christensen, one of the DART members at Bethlehem says, “Statistically, few abusers will repent, but God hasn’t made us privy to who the select few are. We pursue the hearts of those who abuse until they reject being pursued.”
Their new DART initiative gets it wrong right out of the gate.
Seasoned advocates know that you don’t focus on helping an abuser who doesn’t think he’s wrong. That’s a wasted effort. You focus on the helping the victim deprogram from the abuser’s voice. But Bethlehem has mixed its misogynistic theology with bits and pieces of things they’ve heard or been taught about abuse, and they’ve created a toxic cocktail of emotional and spiritual death for victims. They know just enough to make them dangerous.
I’m revealing names because specific people abused their authority in my life without sanction, and they continue to abuse their authority in the lives of others.
A Bit of Background
I grew up in a Christian home and was married in 1993 at the age of 25. In my journal, prior to getting married, I recorded several things that scared me about the man I was going to marry—the main one being that he was unable to take responsibility for his choices and behaviors. I didn’t know at the time that this is the primary characteristic of an abusive individual.
My answer to these red flags was a result of the conservative religious brainwashing I was steeped in: “God wanted me to marry him so I could help him.” Isn’t that what a wife was for? To be a “helper?”
We got married, and all the issues we had when we were dating got worse. Several months into our marriage, I felt a tremendous amount of fear and hopelessness. I didn’t believe in divorce, so I set about trying to get someone on the outside to help my husband see what he was doing to me.
- Over the course of the next few years, I reached out to our church elders at the time, and they recommended some marriage books to help me be a better wife.
- I reached out to two different couples for “mentoring” help. They didn’t understand the destructive dynamic I was experiencing, and while they tried to help, they were unsuccessful.
- An elderly woman mentored me while I was on bed rest one year. She prayed I would be a better wife so my husband could “blossom” into the man he was meant to be.
In all cases, the focus was on me and how I needed to better myself. My husband simply could not be the kind of husband I needed unless I could first be the kind of wife HE needed.
When I tried to bring up the hurtful things he did and said, they told me to “Focus on your own sin. Forgive. Do your duty. This will bring you joy and peace.”
But all I felt was anguish and confusion. I became obsessed with solving the unsolvable problem between my husband and me. Meanwhile, every time I tried to get outside help, my husband would behave in sullen, angry, critical, and negative ways. And as our family grew, I watched him treat the kids in the same demeaning way.
At one point, the older kids and I sat down with him and shared our pain. We cried. We begged him to listen and understand. To stop. But he blamed us for “ganging up on him” and made fun of us for weeks after that, cracking sick jokes about it and causing me to feel shame and hopelessness.
Ten years limped along, and my journals were full of my agony. I cried out to God constantly for help. For strength to endure. For humility to take the shaming and blaming that were a regular part of my experience. I apologized and begged forgiveness for every moment I lashed out in pain and anger over what was done and said to me. I lived a life of constant guilt, constant shame, and constant stress, and I had to keep it all a secret in order to “respect and protect” my abusive husband.
In 2003 we started going to Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, MN, and after a few years of involvement, I once again reached out to an elder for help. Bruce Powers met with us several times. I shared some of my journal entries in an attempt to describe the covert abuse that I had been experiencing for years, but my husband would justify every single example with excuses, half truths, outright denial, and blame shifting.
At home, my husband shamed me for “airing our dirty laundry” and “making a big deal out of average miscommunication issues.” It was too painful, and I stopped initiating contact with this elder. Bruce saw me in the church hallway many months later and asked how I was doing. I said “fine” and moved on. I distracted myself from the pain by homeschooling, writing, starting a soap business, and raising nine kids.
But I also spent many nights on my bathroom floor sobbing and wishing I was dead. Nobody could see what I was experiencing. I could not explain it adequately, and I could not define it for myself in a way that would set me free from it.
Sometimes I would skip communion at church, feeling I was unworthy of God’s love. If I was a good Christian, my husband would be happy with me. He would be pleased and satisfied. Since he wasn’t, and since he blamed me for everything, I felt deep inside it was my fault, and I even wondered if I was a “Christian” wannabe. Maybe God had not “chosen” me? I was reminded what a horrible sinner I was at home and at church. Grace was for my husband. Not for me.
Ten more years went by. The night before Easter, 2013, my husband bruised both sides of our 10-year-old’s face in one of his discipline sessions with her in the basement. The next morning when I saw her face, I brought her to him and told him to look at her. He said, “I didn’t do that!” He blamed her and said she did it to herself by bashing her head against his hands over and over.
The whole thing felt surreal. It seemed insane that he could so blatantly deny responsibility with such obvious evidence. I told him he had to leave or I’d tell our small group leaders. He left for a few days, and I told our small group leaders anyway. I also told Sally Michael, a Bethlehem staff member at the time. Nobody knew what to do, which terrified me.
What was right? What was wrong? Was I a bad mom for letting this happen? Was I a bad wife for telling? I felt guilty and conflicted. Nobody helped. Nobody knew how. I should have called the police and filed a report, but I was afraid of being a bad wife. This particular child had some major problems that were hard for me to deal with. What if they took her away? Nobody else thought it was necessary to get “secular help” involved, and I didn’t want to be accused of being dramatic.
So on my own, grasping at straws, I decided to tell my husband he could only come back if he agreed to go to a three-day marriage intensive. I used my own savings from my home business to pay the $7,500 cost of the intensive. An elder and his wife agreed to go with us. My husband seemed to change some of his behaviors for about four weeks after the intensive, but then it was back to the the same bad stuff.
In August of 2013 I wrote a lengthy letter to the men who were part of my husband’s “accountability” prayer group. These men had met with him every Tuesday morning for a few years, and I was hoping they, along with their wives, would come alongside us and help us. Two of those people, Chris and Barb Johnson, responded this way:
From Chris: “As for your letter, I do not plan to read it. I am all for people confessing their own sins, but I find it very disrespectful to publicize other people’s, particularly when it appears to have been done without their knowledge or consent.”
From Barb: “I am no marriage counselor, but I have a hard time fitting this email into Ephesians 5:33 “and let the wife see that she respects her husband.“
Another wall of resistance and shame. I reeled with pain and shock. In later months, this same couple would forego their pious scruples to love on my husband and hear his narrative.
Time for ME to change!
It dawned on me that my husband might never change his behaviors, and nobody would ever be able to help us. If I was going to survive, I needed to change something about ME.
In the fall of 2013, I started coaching with Leslie Vernick, author of The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, and I began to read books and educate myself on the subject of emotional abuse. As I gradually woke up and came to accept the reality that I was in an abusive marriage, I grieved but also felt a sense of deep relief. While I could not make the relentless pain of my marriage go away, at least now it finally made sense.
Leslie helped me put my big girl pants on and establish boundaries where I could respond to my husband respectfully, but firmly lay down some perimeters for our relationship. It was at this point I told him I couldn’t have sex with him unless he acknowledged the ways he demeaned me.
Yoshi Kasahara, Elder
Yoshi Kasahara, an elder, was meeting with my husband by this time, but it didn’t seem to be helping. In fact, I felt he was actually behaving more entitled than ever. I wondered why until Yoshi gave me a book called Fierce Woman. I realized at that point Yoshi believed my husband was a victim of a “fierce woman” who just wouldn’t back off. If only I would let my husband off the hook (because to press him to take responsibility for his behavior was too hard on him – Yoshi told me in one email I was “beating a dead dog”), if only I would be quieter and more cooperative, more of a gentle spirit, then my husband could become the man of God he needed to be.
Also, Yoshi said it was sinful for me to withhold sex from my husband. That made it even harder for him to be a good husband.
Again, his abuse was my fault. I made him treat me poorly. And I wasn’t allowed to have safe boundaries because I was HIS wife. I belonged to him.
We got together with Yoshi and his wife a couple of times in their home. Both times I tried to give examples of the emotional abuse that was happening, but my husband was able to explain everything away, and the examples, by themselves, seemed unsubstantial and unconvincing. He played the role of a whipped puppy while casting me in the role of the ungrateful nag. (This is emotional abuse in action, by the way!)
I realized I was once again spinning my wheels with the Kasaharas, and I had an insane email exchange with Yoshi in which I extracted myself from any further meetings. Here is an example of Yoshi’s inability to diagnose the chronic emotional abuse I was experiencing.
You have both developed unhealthy communication patterns with each other and it is exacerbating the problems. I believe that if you learn to develop better communication patterns and approach each other, you will understand each other better and draw close to each other.
(By the way, I am now married to a man who is not abusive, and our communication is just fine. Communication with an abuser is impossible no matter how hard you try.)
During this time, Leslie Vernick was helping me see the importance of standing by the truth and tolerating the disapproval of others. I was beginning to see the importance of letting go of my people-pleasing habits and growing up.
David Livingston, Pastor
In the late winter/early spring of 2014 I tried reaching out to David Livingston, the head pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist’s south campus, several times by email. Each time he was too busy to respond. He would apologize and give me reasons why he could not respond, and I trusted that he truly cared but was just too busy to help.
Interestingly enough, when I forced my husband to leave in September of 2014, he contacted David Livingston and got a meeting with him within less than a week. He then set up regular meetings with pastor Livingston that went on for several months.
Pastor Livingston never did respond to my request to meet, nor did he ever reach out to meet with me.
Caroline Jones, Member and Bible Counselor
That summer (2014) I heard about a female member of Bethlehem, Caroline Jones, who was getting her biblical counseling degree and looking for clients. I decided to see if she could help me.
Caroline didn’t want to counsel with me if I was thinking of a divorce. She let me know that right up front. Her help was conditional. Since I wasn’t considering divorce, I “got to” counsel with her. She didn’t believe I was being abused. She told me once that abuse was a strong word to use, implying that it was too strong in my case.
I had emailed some things to my husband, and in an effort to be transparent (something I don’t recommend and deeply regret during my process of getting out – I was far too trusting of human beings), I copied both Caroline and pastor David Livingston so they could monitor our conversation. These emails involved things that were continuing to happen that triggered me, and although I tried to be objective, I let some of my deep frustration show through.
She told me in our next meeting that I was rude to my husband, and it “shocked” her. I asked her what I had written that was shocking, and she gave me one example where I had been sarcastic, and I said, “Yes, I probably should have kept that out.” (By the way, victims of relentless emotional abuse can get quite sarcastic due to the insanity of their lives. I don’t apologize for that, anymore, nor do I judge victims for it. Seasoned abuse advocates don’t either.)
I couldn’t understand how she could be shocked by some sarcasm seeping into my email when she didn’t seem to mind the 22 years of criticism, silent treatment, and dehumanizing behavior my husband had put me through and was STILL putting me through. It didn’t seem to bother or shock her that my husband wasn’t responding to my emails or making any efforts to get his family back. The cognitive dissonance this creates in a person is profoundly damaging to their brain.
At one point she said, “You’ve gone on and on about this stuff already. Can we move on to something else?” This stunned me, too. I felt I had to be careful about what I said, or she’d get annoyed. The only problem is, the kinds of things my husband did happened repeatedly. If she got irritated just talking about it with me, how did she think it felt to LIVE WITH IT for over two decades?
At one point I said to her, “You need to understand this type of abuse if you want to help those of us experiencing it.”
She became defensive and said, “I have taken women who have been beaten to women’s shelters. I know about abuse.” Again though, this implied that being beaten is the serious abuse, but emotional abuse isn’t a big deal. The fact is, emotional abuse is the worst, most prevalent kind of abuse, and it absolutely affects the brains and bodies of the women who suffer under it. The wounds of emotional abuse take years, sometimes a lifetime, to recover from.
After a few months, I discontinued counseling with her. I realized she was not experienced in trauma recovery, nor was she interested in learning. I felt her agenda for me was very different from what I really needed at that time. I chalked it up to her inexperience, and I sent her a respectful “break up” email. She never responded. (Notice the pattern of dishonoring silent treatment throughout my experience with this church?)
Now my husband was telling his friends “Natalie has quit on TWO COUNSELORS in one year!” Implying that I was uncooperative or maybe just looking for a counselor who would agree with me. It was a horrible way to spin it. I was looking for a skilled counselor who understood emotional/verbal abuse and it’s effects on a woman. I needed practical skills to better handle the crazy conversations I got into with him and to better know how to respond when he used abusive tactics on me.
At that point, I decided to give it a year, pray for a miracle, and then file for divorce if nothing changed. I stopped going to Bethlehem and began visiting a different church. I also found a new counselor who seemed to understand my situation better.
Jason Meyer, Lead Pastor
Then, what I thought was a miracle happened. A woman contacted me, telling me that Jason Meyer, the lead pastor at Bethlehem, along with some other people, wanted to hear my story. At first, I didn’t want to do it. I was terrified to go into that place of vulnerability only to be disbelieved and abandoned again. But I wondered if maybe God wanted me to move into this, and if there was a chance they could help my husband, and we could save our marriage, it would be worth the risk.
In January of 2015, I met with Jason Meyer (lead pastor), Curt Elting-Ballard (head of the elder board), Ken Currie (another pastor), and all their wives, plus Kirsten Christianson, Sara Anderson, and Kirsten Marsh who were all part of a new initiative called DART (domestic abuse response team).
I told them my whole story, and they seemed to believe me. For the first time in my marriage, I felt hope. I floated on cloud nine for the next few months as this team of people sent me encouraging emails, listened to me rant and rave (I was now moving through the anger phase of grief as I watched my marriage and family fall to pieces), and reassure me over and over that they loved me, and they were never going to abandon me.
I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I trusted them with all the weakest parts of me, and I was an open book about my counseling and all the things I was struggling with, even giving them full access to my counselor’s notes on our sessions. (Please don’t ever do this. Hard lesson learned.)
This team of people met with my husband a couple of times and sent me two separate emails with their findings. Here is a quote from one of those emails:
After the meeting, the five of us (Dave, Klaas, Kirsten, Kurt, and myself) were of one accord that there was no repentance – not even anything remotely resembling repentance. We really do not think that [your husband] is a believer. It was good for Klaas and Dave to get a first hand look at how “flat line” [your husband] is and how clueless he acts about his sin and how he demonstrates an almost complete lack of ownership for the breakdown of his marriage.
In April of 2015, Kirsten and Sara went with me to see an attorney.
Klaas Van Zee and David Filzen, Elders
Then, the elders who had been involved (Jason, Ken, and Kurt) turned my case over to two newer elders at the south campus, Klaas Van Zee and David Filzen along with some oversight by pastor Chuck Steddom.
I was uncomfortable with these men right from the beginning. It was a very subtle feeling, but I felt like I was on trial again. Like I had to somehow prove that what I was saying was true. I was told those two men would be working closely with my husband for three months.
The exact words Dave Filzen wrote to me: “This phase of the separation plan is for three months. Klaas and I will be meeting with your husband every three to four weeks to discuss his progress and his homework that he is doing. After three months we will reassess the situation and decide how to proceed from there.”
Throughout the three months that followed (June-August), in the email exchanges that took place between myself and these two men, I sensed irritation every time I brought up something my husband was doing that still indicated no changes were taking place. I had been studying my husband for over 20 years, and I knew his tones and facial expressions and the way he turned a phrase. He was my intimate partner, and I knew him better than anyone on this earth. But they didn’t seem to think I had any credibility when it came to analyzing what he was still doing to me and the kids.
It was like they wanted so badly to say my husband was getting better, and my “nit-picking” was standing in the way of their agenda. I just wanted real repentance that came from inside. Not fake repentance just to get the church off his back. I knew that until my husband could see it and acknowledge his behavior, he wouldn’t be able to change it.
Behind the scenes he was still doing all of his covert stuff, not admitting to anything, telling the kids I was crazy, criticizing little things about me, continuing to say “it’s BOTH of us, not just me.” But to them he was “repentant” and “sad and sorry,” and “why couldn’t I see that?”
At the end of that three months, we all agreed to go another three months to November. I did not have to agree to this. I had cooperated with the initial request, and my duty was over. But I was still (insanely) hoping we could make some progress even though I had seen little yet to give me much to hope for. The elders, however, thought he was making progress, and a little more time might do the trick.
Watching this whole thing go down in flames was the most terrifying experience of my entire life. I felt like I was suffocating in a glass bubble that nobody could see but me.
Kirsten Christianson, Head of DART
During that time, Kirsten Christianson and Sara Anderson were “in charge” of helping me, but as the feeling of dejavu continued to increase, I began to panic, big time. I stopped trusting them. I got this email from Kirsten on September 6, 2015:
“I am also concerned that you have [your husband] under a microscope. I am asking you to stop testing [your husband] or interacting in deeper ways than have been set up. I am asking you to please, please wait for Sara’s and my meeting with you. It’s Sunday. I would like to talk to you by phone and not do things over email. It is not helpful. Please trust me. Trust God.”
This was (and is) the HEAD of the DART initiative. Not only is she equating herself with God (to trust her is to trust God), but she doesn’t understand the basics of helping abuse victims. Experienced advocates know that a critical step in helping a survivor is to empower them to make their own decisions. They often second guess themselves because they’ve been controlled for so long by someone else, and they need to see they are grown ups who can decide things for themselves, even if they make mistakes (everyone makes mistakes, but victims are scared to make a mistake and need to learn that it’s okay. That’s how we learn and grow.)
But I was feeling more and more like if I stepped out of line, I would lose their support. This is what life was like with my abusive husband! I had to do everything and be everything he wanted or I was out on my butt. The whole thing triggered a lot of fear in me. Now I was feeling like I had multiple people who were manipulating me using the Bible, guilt, and power-over tactics.
The other thing I’d like to point out here is that when an abuse survivor is trying to assess whether or not her abuser has changed or is just doing what he’s always done—pretending—the last thing she needs is for people who have no clue telling her what’s what and crossing her personal boundaries. That’s just so wrong on so many levels. This is basic “abuse advocate 101” stuff.
Kirsten Marsh, DART member and licensed counselor
Another DART team member, Kirsten Marsh, a trained counselor who should have known better, wrote me the following questions:
“More recently it seems like your main focus is on all of [your husband’s] offenses against you, all of the ways he isn’t trying hard enough, or he should know better,”
“Recently as I’ve read your emails it has seemed like you are resisting any suggestions that you have work to do.”
“No Christian can say that there isn’t change to be done in their lives, even when there has been abuse, it simply isn’t possible.”
This email confirmed that my suspicions about where they were coming from were all true. I wrote the following response back:
“What evidence do you have that I have been or currently am unwilling to look at my stuff?
Evidence that I am working:
- Invested thousands of dollars on counseling, books, and classes online and offline. Invested time reading, listening, writing, analyzing.
- Self-corrected and initiated apologies for my own wrong actions even when others, including my husband, have hurt me and not cared to hear me out.
- Overlooked other’s offenses and misunderstandings again and again.
- Been ready, willing, and eager to forgive and love and repair if my husband could just repent.
- Discarded countless emails after analyzing them and realizing my over-reactions.
Since you don’t know me that well and don’t have regular interactions with me, I’m mystified as to how you can make those kinds of assumptions. This last year has been sheer hell for me on so many levels – it is only the grace of God I’m functioning without drugs at this point. I think I’m going to give myself a break even if nobody else does – and remind myself that I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances – and I don’t have to be cleaned up in order to explain that things are still not well with my husband. Just because I am pointing out that his pathology is still killing me – doesn’t mean I’m not working on my own stuff.”
After this I was told to make a list of my expectations of my husband and then do a Bible study of what God says a husband is responsible for—and see if my expectations and God’s expectations lined up. This implied I had unrealistic expectations of my husband. (I guess to expect honesty, kindness, empathy, respect, personal responsibility, and love were just too much. Thankfully, I’m now married to a man who just IS all those things, naturally. No effort needed. He’s just a good man. Period.)
I always went through every single hoop they gave me. Always. Faithfully. In spite of the snarkiness of her request, In spite of the fact that I was single parenting eight kids, three with special needs, plus running a business to make ends meet, all while full of fear and grief and anger and shame, I did the homework they requested and sent it to the team. Guess what? No response. They showed me no honor or compassion for the time investment I had just put in to “obey” them. It was devastating at the time. I look back now and see how these experiences shaped who I am today. They opened my eyes and helped me establish healthier boundaries with people.
In October of that year, I agreed to let my counselor meet with my husband. Again, I was naive and hoped she might be able to help him. This ended up being a huge disaster the following year, which I will come back to.
I Disengage with the DART Team
That same month I made the decision to disengage with the entire process at Bethlehem. They made it clear that they were frustrated with my feedback. They wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. I was emotionally exhausted, and I just wanted a break so I could focus on the Lord and heal. This is the letter I sent to the DART group on October 7, 2015:
I’ve done a lot of vexing and thinking and praying over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve realized that I need to stop giving feedback to the team. It dawned on me that my feedback is largely unsolicited. [My husband] has the right to live however he wants to, and while I don’t need to agree with what he does or doesn’t do, I need to respect his right to do it. I’ve been desperate for him to understand and change so we could have a normal marriage, but I think God has brought me full circle – back to where I was almost exactly a year ago when I was looking solely to Him alone for strength and guidance. I allowed having a “team” helping me – to get my focus off Him and on to human beings again. It feels good to have people “get it.” But seriously? – Nobody gets it like God does. And that has to be enough for me. The old temptation to seek relief from humans is too strong for me. I really want to grow my CORE strength (Leslie’s acronym), and while it doesn’t feel good or comfortable, it is something I want to develop before I die. Having a counselor like Leslie or Ruth is extremely helpful to keep me on track, and I will continue to see Ruth.
I don’t know what the end goal is for the elders, which is probably why we are at odds. Our goals were maybe different. I believed I was part of the team helping [my husband] (I love him more than all of you put together whether anyone believes it or not, and I hope my saying so isn’t irritating), but now I’m not so sure that is how anyone viewed me, and therefore I felt my input was more chaffing than valuable.
I don’t know what will happen with [my husband] and me. I often feel profound, physically painful and heavy sadness for him (you can have anger toward someone and feel like this at the same time – I know because I do) – and I wish I could help him see and change. I wish I could be close to him and make him happy. I wish I felt safe with him and could rest. But I can’t. We each have our own journeys with God – and they are separate from one another.
I believe it is best for this season to be over. Thank you for patiently reading my extensive crap for so many months while you all had your own lives to live – and for praying for me and my husband and our kids. You’ve had a huge impact on my life.
With much affection, Natalie
The only member of the team who responded was Sara (she later left the DART team and Bethlehem). She asked a couple of clarifying questions, I responded, and that was that. Nobody else responded.
This sent a very loud message, and the message was this: “We will love you as long as you collude with us and do what we tell you to do. Oh, and never tell us we are doing anything wrong.”
I Decide to File for Divorce
In April 2016, I took all my journals I had recorded for the past 25 years and went to a hotel for two nights. I spent that time reading every single one and writing down all the patterns of behavior I had experienced in my marriage. To see it all laid out like this was shocking to me, and I realized my greatest enemy wasn’t my husband. It was me. I had thrown myself under the bus over and over again in an effort to keep a destructive marriage intact. The Holy Spirit powerfully met me and convicted me of the way I had worshiped my marriage and the approval of others.
When that weekend was over, I fell on my knees weeping and committed the next steps to Jesus. I told Him I was ready. I would file for divorce even though I didn’t want to, and I was scared to death of what would happen to me and my kids. I knew by now the leaders in this church would probably paint me as the one who burned down the house while protecting the actual arsonist hiding in the shadows, but incredibly, I was still giving them the benefit of the doubt.
I sent an email to the elders working with my husband to let them know of my decision. I didn’t have to do this, but I did it out of respect for them since I knew they were still investing time in my husband. I asked them if they had changed their opinion about their original belief that my husband was unrepentant and maybe not even saved.
They wouldn’t answer that question via email. Instead they asked if they could have permission to talk to my counselor. At first I agreed but then changed my mind and denied them permission.
I found out from my counselor later that they DID talk to her, and she actually suggested to my husband (whom she was seeing only by my permission) that I might have borderline personality disorder. Why? Because I let her listen to one of the circular conversations my husband and I had a couple years prior to that in which I ended by crying and threatening to cut myself. (I never did cut myself, but this is how desperate I was getting. Back then I thought maybe if I put a cut in my thigh every time he hurt me or gaslighted me or demeaned me, then I could go to a women’s shelter and get help there. I just needed physical evidence somehow. I used to pray he would hit me hard enough to leave a mark. Sadly, this is how horrible mental abuse can get. The worst part about it is not being believed.) Also, she had been drinking my husband’s Kool-Aid for a few months by that time.
She later called me and apologized for leading others to believe what she no longer thought was true. (Eventually she saw more of my husband’s pathology and tried to backtrack with the elders, but it was too late. The damage had been done.)
As it turned out, this counselor was not licensed, nor did she have any education that would qualify her to make a diagnosis. She had never even heard of C-PTSD. I had to send her resources to educate her about complex-post traumatic stress disorder, a very common diagnosis for victims of long term intimate emotional abuse. C-PTSD has a couple of the same symptoms of BPD, but unlike BPD which is a personality disorder that can’t be changed, C-PTSD is situational and can be healed with proper treatment. I had EMDR therapy with a real licensed therapist in the summer of 2016, and most of my C-PTSD symptoms subsided.
All of that to say, the rumor that I had BPD spread. Everyone who actually had known me for most of my life thought this was ludicrous. But the leaders at Bethlehem didn’t know me outside of what they had heard from my abusive husband and other dysfunctional people, and nobody cared to check their facts because it played so well into their narrative of who I was so they could justify their treatment of me. So BPD it was. (Just a little side note, it’s actually common for abusers and their flying monkeys to “diagnose” their target with BPD.)
Klaas and Kirsten
The elders refused to answer my email question (of course) and instead kept requesting that I meet with them in person. So on May 5, 2016 I agreed to meet with Klaas and Kirsten. My sister came along as a witness.
Immediately after the meeting (which I ended up cutting short because it was abusive), my sister and I went to a restaurant and wrote down everything we could remember. Here is what we wrote:
Klaas asked “what were you asking in your email?”
Natalie: “I was wondering if you believed anything had changed since Jason sent the email about my husband last April.”
Klaas: “Do you mean if [your husband] has changed or if we have changed our perception?”
Klaas: “I talked to Jason and he said if he were to rephrase that email a year later after working with [your husband] we would say there are two sinners in the room. [Your husband] has sins of omission and you have sins of commission. You each have a narrative and neither one is willing to look outside of your own narrative.”
Natalie: “So if I was to move outside of my narrative, what would that look like?”
Klaas: (hmmed and hawed and made some comment about how he doesn’t read my blog and then he leaned back and said “You don’t know God.” and “God is absent from your narrative.”
Natalie: “God is the CENTER of my narrative.”
Klaas: Said something after that we can’t remember. I think we were so stunned this was coming out of someone’s mouth.
Natalie: “I need to write this down, actually I’d like to record this.”
Kirsten literally jumped up and lunged across the table, startling both my sister and me, and she said loudly “I’m not comfortable with that!“
Natalie: “why not?”
Kirsten: “No! You are not allowed to record anything”.
Natalie: “There must be a reason. Do you have something to hide?”
Natalie: “if you won’t let me record it then the meeting is over.”
Kirsten: “the meeting is over then.”
As we collected our things, Kirsten said “you are making some really sad decisions.”
Natalie: “God will be the judge of that.”
Kirsten: “yes he will.”
As we were walking out Kirsten said in a patronizing tone dripping with controlled anger, “so sad.”
Klaas also said somewhere in there that my husband claimed I was the abuser. I asked if they believed him. They didn’t give a direct answer. I think that’s when he started on the “narrative” idea. Even though we talked about it immediately after leaving, my sister and I were so stunned that we had a hard time remembering the order of things. But other than a very tiny amount of small talk at the beginning, this was the conversation.
Months later, I would spend an entire EMDR session unpacking this single traumatic incident.
The DART team tried to get me to meet with them again. Instead, I sent them one last vulnerable, pleading letter.
May 20, 2016
Thank you for your willingness to continue reaching out. It has been a struggle to respond for many reasons, and I have written and rewritten this in an attempt to say what I am scared to say, but what I feel I must say. The biggest hurdle for me has been that Klaas called my testimony a “narrative.” He also said “you don’t know God” and “God is absent from your narrative.” How does a person respond to that assertion? I realized in that horrible moment that you believe false things, and my word carries no credibility with you anymore. To share anything more of my “narrative” would be futile, and it would only further hurt me. Judgment has been passed, the conversation has been circumvented, and I’ve been placed in a powerless, hopeless position again.
I suspected that meeting was going to be hurtful, and I was advised by several people not to go. I defended you. I wanted so badly to believe that you sincerely wanted to answer the questions I sent in my email. That what I had felt in my gut wasn’t true. But my naivete and denial kicked in again. What I never saw coming was that Bethlehem was going to go for the only thing I’ve been promised by God that I can keep through this horror – and that is God, Himself. He is my life. It would have been kinder to take a knife and gut me than to sit back, look me in the eye, and tell me God is not part of my “narrative.” It was a lie from hell that struck a hard blow to my heart and still sends my heart racing every time I think of it. I went home and curled up in bed wide awake all night. I couldn’t even cry, the pain was so horrific. It permeated every cell in my body. I could only lay there, shaking, for hours. And then I got up and took care of 7 hurting children by myself. Criticism, confusion, negativity, accusations, and lies. That is the toxic, shaming environment I am accustomed to living and breathing in. And my desperate attempts to find relief for myself and my kids are met with deeper, more painful attacks. God gave me a strong, first-born personality, but the years of this have taken their toll, and I now am weakened with panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and complex- PTSD.
But that doesn’t mean God is not part of my narrative.
I am scared to death of you. All of you. I shake when I think of my husband and Bethlehem. My heart pounds, my head spins, and my stomach aches. I have an enemy I cannot define or name. Nobody sees the deception swirling around my family. I take a swing and miss. I point something out and people say, “What? Where?” Since that night I have spent large chunks of time crying off and on each day. My life has been shattering in a million pieces over the course of this past year, and my church tells me I don’t know God and He is not part of my “narrative.” I can hardly wrap my brain around that. Klaas also told me my husband says I am the abuser. The horrible thing isn’t that my husband would say this. Of course he says that. The horrible thing is that you must believe it. What kind of a fool have I been to trust you? For allowing myself to let the grief and anger out? To be ugly and messy and fall apart in front of you? For believing that you meant it when you said it was okay. That you “got it.” That you loved me. That you had my back. Every time I think of it, I want to crawl in a hole and die of shame and hopelessness.
God, in His gentleness to my heart, reminded me that Satan flips everything upside down. So if I want to know the truth about my situation, all I have to do is flip what Klaas said upside right. In that case, the truth is that I belong to God. I am His beloved child. He knows me and I know Him. He sees me. He knows exactly what goes on here and why. I don’t just have a narrative I made up in my head. I am a woman telling the truth of what I have lived through and continue to live through the best I can. A truth that could get me burned at the stake where lies would keep me safe and “loved.” A false love that I no longer want. I’m ready to die. I’m ready to lose everything. But I can’t go back.
God gave me this after that traumatizing meeting:
“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the prosperity of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, says the Lord.” Isaiah 54:13-15,17 (NRSV)
Can it be true? Oh please, God, let it be so! It is hard for me to believe this right now, but He reminds me that it wouldn’t be faith if it were easy to see and believe. I love Him, and I belong to Him, regardless of what people say. You haven’t spoken to me or heard me in months. When I backed out last fall because I sensed a waning support and could see this was going the way it always does, nobody reached out to reassure me or comfort me. There was zero compassion or desire to understand or connect. That only confirmed what my gut was telling me. Why do you think you have a platform to speak into my life at this point? I didn’t ask for your opinion about me. I asked for your opinion about [my husband] because he is the one you’ve been “helping” and meeting with. I wanted so badly to believe that you wanted to meet with me to sincerely answer my question, but it only took five minutes for you to shred my heart apart. Why are you hurting me?
I didn’t have to send out an email and let you know I was filing for divorce. I did that because I was still hoping I could be wrong. Maybe someone did care. I didn’t want to assume they didn’t, even though it had been months since anyone had talked to me. When a woman tells the people who promised to support her that she is getting a divorce, that is the same thing as telling them “My life is falling apart. I’m losing everything. I’m a real person in real pain. Please help! Please care! Oh God, doesn’t anyone care?!”
Crickets. I got crickets. Oh, the profound pain of that. Abandonment is the story of my life. It is such a struggle to believe I am worth anything when everyone I ever dare to let in ends up running the other direction. Unless I give them something to keep them wanting to stay. What if I have nothing to give anymore?
The other horrible memory that sticks out in my sister’s mind and in mine is that when I reached for my phone and stated that the rest of the conversation would need to be recorded, you (Kirsten) literally rose from your seat and physically lunged across the table at me as you demanded “NO! You will NOT record this meeting!” You startled my sister. Why is it that Bethlehem and my husband insist that our conversations not be recorded? Why doesn’t [my husband] want that accountability? Why don’t you want that accountability? What could possibly be wrong with having our words on record? I’m so grateful I brought my sister as a witness to what you did to me that night, because I must no longer trust the things that are being said about me or my situation.
I have been open about my “fight” to be heard. My anger at the years of lies and injustice. I thought it was clear that I spent the first 16 years of my marriage taking the shame and blame for every nuanced thing that went wrong. I’m the one who took all the responsibility, groveling and begging for forgiveness to keep the peace. I’m the one who gave up my voice and my boundaries and lost myself in hopes of making [my husband] happy and pleasing all the Religious People in my life. I have always felt the weight of my sin, and I have always worked hard to keep short accounts in my relationships, to the point of being used by many people in my life over the years. I believed I was made to be used by people and then discarded. I wasn’t worth anything but to be a scapegoat for anyone I cared about. This was how I could “share in Christ’s sufferings.” In my sick way of understanding, I even welcomed it! It never dawned on me that Christ was the only Scapegoat any of us ever needed. This is the part of my “narrative” I walked alone in silence. Nobody saw this. There is only my word for it. And God will reveal the whole of it in eternity. But the only way out of my scapegoating role is to set boundaries and then prepare to walk through a hurricane of shit. An impossible task, from a human standpoint. And I thought you understood that and were going to help me, finally. Last year I was learning that God loved all of me. The good and the bad. No matter how messy and how hard things got. I didn’t have to be perfect to earn His love and acceptance. So I really tried resting in that, and I thought we were on the same page, you and me. I thought I was safe with you. I thought God was using you to show me what real love was. I thought God was going to use the Body of Christ to bring healing. What a devastating blow to be betrayed in this final way. I am not sinless, not by a long shot, but when it comes to the failure of this marriage, I am blameless. I have done everything and more that a human can possibly do to make it work and save it. I have a clean conscience before God.
Kirsten, you accused me of making “sad decisions” as I walked out of that office. It felt like a final stab in the back. But the sad decisions were already made by a lot of other people. Decisions to lie. Decisions to manipulate. Decisions to be proud. Decisions to ignore. Decisions to spiritually abuse others who are powerless and gullible. I didn’t make those decisions. But those decisions have been used by the devil to do a destructive work in many lives and on many levels.
I am anguished to have to withdraw my membership from Bethlehem effective now, and I can not agree to meeting with anyone from Bethlehem again. I am committing myself to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That is the God of my narrative. The God of Truth. One day I believe He will vindicate me. If not on this earth, then in heaven. If you care at all for my children, please pray for their hearts. Also, my dad has Aggressive B Cell Lymphoma with three mutations. It doesn’t look good. I have lost so much, and I am in tremendous, overwhelming pain. Please stop hurting me.
I sent that email to everyone who had been in on our case from the beginning including lead pastor, Jason Meyer, head of elder board Curt Elting-Ballard, pastor Ken Currie, and all their wives.
NOT ONE PERSON RESPONDED.
Then, 11 days later, I did get an email from Kirsten Christianson: May 31, 2016. Here is an excerpt:
There is one point that I will own. When you told Sara and me you no longer needed us, I should have continued to check in with you. At the time, I was blindsided. I had been feeling increasingly inadequate in our relationship and I felt like you were firing us.
So bottom line? It was my fault because I “fired” them. It was exactly like something my husband would say to excuse his bad behaviors by turning it around and making his behavior my fault somehow. I was dumbfounded. I was questioning the emotional and spiritual maturity level of everyone involved. Their lack of discernment, lack of humility, lack of love, and lack of wisdom was on a level I could hardly wrap my brain around. I decided to cut off all contact.
Thank you for your response. I am no longer a member of Bethlehem, and I’m looking for a church that will be a good place for me to worship without the memories associated with the traumas I’ve lived through. I’m hopeful you will understand how important that is for my healing during this difficult time. I told you about my decision to pursue the legal dissolution of the marriage that my husband ended by his abuse because of your past involvement with our issues. At this point, there is no need to continue meeting. I appreciate your concern, but I need to move on with my life, and I don’t think any more meetings will be necessary or helpful.
I do appreciate your prayers for our family.
I began to see that they only had as much control as I gave them. And since they could not be trusted, why was I giving them so much power in my life? No more.
They did not accept my letter of resignation from membership. They explain why in this excerpt from an email Chuck Steddom sent me in October of 2017. TWO YEARS after I had left Bethlehem and removed my membership.
“Although you asked for your membership to be removed, that that is not how membership works. According to our constitution, admission to membership and dismissal from membership must be by congregational approval…. Our hope would be to see you follow a path that honors God while also taking seriously the marital issues that have led to the divorce we understand you’ve been pursuing.”
There it was. He admitted their constitution trumps everything else. But they took it a step further. I found out later from the elders of the new church I was then attending that the Bethlehem elders had gone to my new church elders to warn them about me and my “unrepentant sin.”
At this time I was single parenting 8 kids still at home. One had a recent Autism diagnosis, and I was taking him to therapy, evaluations, and Dr. appointments, filling out acres of paperwork, and doing parent training. By myself. I had another child with severe mental health issues who was regularly spending hours screaming, hitting, biting, kicking, and following me around. I was taking her to weekly therapy, filling out MORE acres of paperwork, and reading books to try to figure out how to deal with that. My “normal” kids still had Dr. appointments, therapy, school projects, sickness, activities, etc..
And I worked from home to pay for all of it.
Instead of compassion and comfort, I was shunned by my former church friends. One woman who I thought had been a dear friend refused to let her 16 yo old daughter come over to our home to spend time with my 16 yo old daughter. (Is it any wonder the world hates the Church?)
I found out later that my oldest daughter reached out to Jason Meyer during this time, and he told her he couldn’t help. Another daughter told some of the elders at camp that her dad had abused her, and they gathered around her, promising to help her. When camp was over, they never contacted her again.
In their emails they would say they loved our family and were praying for us. But behind our backs they were spreading their propaganda to our new church in hopes of getting THAT church to shun us, too. One of the former DART members overheard this group of elders in the parking lot of church laughing about how my husband was stalking me. This is the character of the men leading Bethlehem. I don’t care what words they use from the pulpit. These are the words they use in parking lots. These are the activities of frauds.
Is this the kind of behavior you’d expect to see from a church who boasts about being on the cutting edge of dealing with domestic abuse?
In October of 2016, Bethlehem Baptist held a quarterly business meeting and brought my case up before several hundred members. By this time, they had their story all mapped out within their belief system regarding men, women, and marriage. My husband was the victim of an overbearing , rebellious, unforgiving, bitter wife. And now this vixen was divorcing him because she couldn’t get her own selfish way.
I had an insider who attended that meeting and took notes. Here’s what he wrote down and sent to me:
“First Ken Currie gave an explanation of the process we are in, it was the standard – go to the person who is sinning individually, go to them with 2 or 3 others and then tell the Church. If they don’t repent then you treat them like a Gentile and ex-communicate them.
Bruce Powers then shared the following, and read a statement. (He went fast so again this is the best I could do.)
“We take this seriously.”
“We have the last couple years working with Natalie and _____, and something about being involved longer (I think, sorry). They are currently separated and Natalie has filed for divorce.”
“Their marriage has many issues. But no grounds for divorce.”
“We don’t believe we can grant her request to be removed from membership but we feel we must ex-communicate.”
“Pray that the Lord would persuade Natalie to reconcile and change Natalie’s mind.”
“Natalie accused ____ of being abusive and truly feels she has been abused. But we do not feel she has. So we are asking everyone to pray.” (Sorry that last sentence is a summary more words were used but that was the point.)
Bruce then shared a Timeline:
March 2015 – Several elders listened to Natalie’s story and wanted to believe Natalie.
April 2015 – Jason, Kurt, Klaas, Dave, and Kirsten listen to ____’s story. Klaas and Dave take over the case.
May 2015 – Meet with ____ and Nate by the end of the May implement separation plan is put in place.
May to August meet with _____ and Natalie. Natalie is resistant and stops seeing a counselor.
Sept 2015 – Natalie wants to meet with ____ to ask him further questions. Klaas and Dave say no at this time. Natalie goes ahead and asks ___ numerous question that ___ is not prepared to answer.
Oct 2015 – Natalie withdraws from the care of the Dart team and states ___ can still work on his stuff but she is done with her participation.
Oct – Summer 2016 Klaas continue to meets with ____.
April 2016 – Natalie asks Klaas and Dave for final thoughts as she plans to proceed with divorcing ____.
May 2016 – Klaas and Kirsten meet with Natalie. Meeting lasts 12 minutes as Natalie leaves meeting because she cannot record the meeting.
Attempts are made to reconcile Natalie requests to be removed from membership.
Bruce then had some additional thoughts:
“I hope you get a flavor of how this situation has gone.”
He then made a point to highlight that this is not how we are going to deal with abuse. “If you are feeling abused you should come and share it with the elders as every situation is different and we want to help.” (I openly scoffed at this and clearly upset the woman in front of me.)
“But there was no evidence of abuse.”
“We will listen!”
“Male headship is not an excuse for abuse. Every case is different”.
“A year and a half of dealing with this as an abuse case we cannot support her divorce.”
The elders held an open Q&A that this insider attended. He told me later that his concerns were not addressed, and it was more of an image management meeting than an honest grappling with the facts. He said Kirsten Christianson was openly defensive and agitated. This insider and his wife, both respected members of Bethlehem, ended up leaving the church after experiencing some of what I, myself, went through with the leaders there. There were several others who left Bethlehem as well.
In the meantime, my divorce was moving along, and the final hearing was set for the end of November, 2016. Two months prior to the scheduled hearing, Tom, a boy I grew up with, began messaging with me periodically on Facebook. There was a unique connection between us. Over the course of the next two months, Tom and I began talking a lot on the phone and meeting once a week for a walk in a nearby park. A week before the final hearing was scheduled, my husband changed his mind about the agreement and decided to try and get 50% custody of the kids. In the meantime, Tom and I had decided to move ahead with our friendship once the divorce was over, thinking it would be soon.
Little did we know it would be another year before I would be free. We talked about backing off indefinitely, but by that time we had a very strong friendship that was growing deeper every week. We believed it was God-given, and we decided to continue to meet once a week until the divorce was over. As our friendship grew to love, we began to plan a future together. By the time the divorce was final the following year (it took 19 months total) we were ready to get married. I didn’t have a home to live in or any health insurance, so it didn’t make sense to wait just so other people could feel comfortable. By that time I really didn’t care what fickle humans thought anyway.
We were married the day after the divorce was final, and we’ve been pinching ourselves with happiness ever since. He has never been married before, and my marriage had been so dysfunctional that our gratefulness for what we have together is profound.
God took care of me. I gave up my idol of having a healthy marriage with the belief that I would never be married again, and God gave me the gift of a healthy marriage. Not only that, but He gave me the hand’s-on-training to be able to do what I do full time now—work with women of faith in destructive relationships. I wouldn’t trade anything that happened for the world.
These are the verses God gave to me when I was praying about my relationship with Tom and how awkward I felt about getting married so soon after having been divorced.
“How can you say, “We are wise! We have the law of the Lord”?
The truth is, those who teach it have used their writings to make it say what it does not really mean.
Your wise men will be put to shame. They will be dumbfounded and be brought to judgment.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what wisdom do they really have?
So I will give their wives to other men and their fields to new owners.
For from the least important to the most important of them, all of them are greedy for dishonest gain.
Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They offer only superficial help for the hurt my dear people have suffered.
They say, “Everything will be all right!” But everything is not all right!
Are they ashamed because they have done such disgusting things? No, they are not at all ashamed!
They do not even know how to blush! So they will die just like others have died.
They will be brought to ruin when I punish them, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 8:8-12)”
Here is what I would say to Bethlehem and other churches like them who say they want to help abuse survivors. I say this out of my personal experience, my education on this subject, and my exposure to hundreds of victims and their stories of domestic abuse and subsequent church abuse.
- To make a commitment to someone and then to ignore them is hateful. Don’t reach out unless you are equipped to follow through.
- Don’t believe every juicy bit of gossip you hear. Check it out. Show women the same respect of checking “both sides” that you show men.
- Assume that the person who is crying out for help is the one who needs the help. Not the one who presents you with a good story in his “defense.”
- Don’t have an agenda. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead each of His own children as He sees fit. To put human lives in the horrible position of choosing to obey God or YOU is reprehensible. You are not God.
- Be willing to learn. Survivors are perceptive and experienced in the nuances of abuse though they may not understand the definitions or be able to articulate things clearly at first. Your best teachers will be the victims you help. Show them honor as your sisters in Christ.
- Understand the stages of grief and healing that an abuse survivor has to go through. Get good at recognizing which stage the person is currently at, and be willing to patiently walk through each stage with them without pressuring them to move along.
- Don’t view victims (women in particular) as your projects. They are human beings with life experience, also made in the image of God.
- Don’t take over the control of a victim’s life. Empower them to take control of their own life. Respect their decisions even when you may not agree with them. Everyone gets to make their own mistakes and walk their journey with God, and nobody deserves to be treated with contempt or disrespect by others.
- Be willing to learn from all experts in this field. Not just the ones you personally like. And not just from men (a dead giveaway that your theology itself is abusive). You may not agree 100% with everyone, but you can learn many things from everyone. Different things.
- Be humble. Don’t think you already know it all. Seasoned abuse advocates are always reading the latest literature on the subject. There is so much to learn, and new research and insight is coming out all the time. Just because you had an “expert” come in and do a seminar for a couple of days doesn’t mean you are now the experts.
- View your ministry as God’s ministry – not yours. Let Him run the show. He is wiser than you are.
- Read, read, read. There is always more to learn. Anyone in this field without personal experience needs to be constantly learning. Learn from those who have experience. This takes humility.
- Respect the safety and boundaries of your victims. If they want everything in writing, understand and care about why—and offer them that courtesy and safety. Because, unless you’ve got something to hide, why not?
- Be accountable to the larger abuse advocate community. Work WITH them, not against them.
“Oppression, injustice, cruelty, and abuse are not of God. Those who are righteous will not be oppressive or abusive.” Diane Langberg, PhD
Bethlehem Baptist excommunicated me in October, 2017.
May God shine a light in EVERY dark corner where abuse hides, and may He set His daughters free.