"Marie… I'm being honest… I already sort of knew that about [your husband]. Remember the Triathlon Bible Study? One night I saw [your husband] pacing back and forth in front of the doors where we held the study. He was panting, fists closed, face beet red… and if looks could kill… I'd be dead. My spirit knew. And I was scared for you…"
Eyewitness Testimony at Heritage Bible Chapel
As the world gets smaller and smaller, we are discovering that some of our sisters in Christ outside of our friendship circle are not blessed with husbands who love them as Christ loves the church. Thanks to the marvels of the internet, we recently discovered that a married woman who lives in Massachusetts has been suffering from emotional and psychological abuse by her husband for the vast majority of their marriage. After twenty l-o-n-g years, she and her husband finally severed their marital ties through divorce. But that's just the beginning of her awful story… Since informing her pastors nine months ago that she and her husband had signed divorce papers, they (the pastors) have been working tirelessly to bring about a reconciliation.
We are grateful to 'Marie' (her real name) for having the courage to come forward and share her heartbreaking story…
We are sharing Part 1 today and will post another installment on Friday. Please be in prayer for Marie, whom we greatly admire for her courage and strength.
Marie met her former husband in Bulgaria when she was in her early 20’s. Initially he seemed congenial and affectionate, and six weeks after they first met, Marie (who is American) agreed to marry. They then agreed to move back to the United States temporarily (“for a year”). Almost as soon as they arrived in Massachusetts, Marie's then husband began to change. What followed was a 20-year nightmare of constant verbal, emotional, and psychological torment.
Although Marie's ex-husband never physically assaulted her, he became increasingly violent and angry over the last several years. Screaming rages; constant humiliation; false accusations and criticism – followed by his seething silently and glowering at family members for days afterwards – became a way of life for her.
In the summer of 2014, Marie's ex-husband's rages and false accusations became so out of control that Marie told him then they were divorcing. At that point she had been pleading with him for the previous 12 years to go together to biblical counseling, and he had always angrily refused, insisting she was “the crazy one”. Suddenly, when Marie told her then husband that she was divorcing him, he became remorseful and asked to go to biblical counseling.
It is worth noting that Heritage Bible Chapel (HBC) had recently gone through a church split of sorts and did not have a counseling ministry. The certified biblical counselors, along with two pastors, had left HBC. At that point in time, Tim Cochrell (the senior pastor) had been at HBC for about two years but did not do counseling, and Kevin Wright, the current counseling pastor, had not yet been hired.
Marie found a biblical counselor (ACBC) in Central Massachusetts, Pastor Mark Marquis, and she and her ex-husband had a few months’ sessions with him (he had permission to contact Pastor Tim if he wished). Pastor Mark recognized the destructive nature of Marie's ex-husband’s anger right away, and most of the counseling focused on that. For a few months things were quieter and more congenial. Then the silent treatments, passive-aggressive behavior, stonewalling, and hurtful sarcasm began again. A few months later, the screaming rages (usually over trivial things) were in full swing. It got worse and worse……all the while, the family attended church every Sunday.
Many of Marie's co-workers, two women from the neighborhood, and five women from the church knew about and had approached her over the last few years with concerns about what they were noticing. They were genuinely concerned for Marie. Desperate to get away from the tyranny, Marie gave up almost all of the assets to which she was entitled in a mediated divorce. On February 1, 2016, Marie left with her car and personal belongings.
In March 2016, Marie went to her two pastors and told them she had left her ex-husband and that divorce papers had been signed weeks earlier. She explained that she and her ex-husband had already done months of biblical counseling in 2014. Within months after those counseling sessions, her then-husband reverted back to his abusive behavior and attitude towards Marie, not seeing any issues with his behavior. Marie's pastors were surprised by this news regarding her troubled marriage and impending divorce, but seemed understanding and compassionate.
Eight days later, Marie's pastors asked her to meet with them to “answer a few questions”. The meeting turned into a two-hour interrogation. The pastors' minds were already made up before she entered the room that “abuse, even physical abuse, is never biblical grounds for divorce”. (It should be noted that there are MANY biblical counselors and pastors who do not agree with this position.)
This was a horrible experience for Marie, as her pastors tried to back her into a corner using every Scripture possible to convince her that God never permits divorce (even citing Hosea and Gomer as a proof text). In that two hours of exegetical debate, Marie cited many verses demonstrating God’s protection and provision for the innocent; the marriage contract of Deuteronomy; Paul’s principle of abandonment; Jesus’ notable refusal to send the woman of John 10 back to her ex-husband(s); Ephesians 4 emphasizing the covenantal importance of husbands loving their wives; and the point of Malachi (God’s hatred of unjust divorce, where men were treacherously abandoning their wives). Absolutely nothing Marie said mattered to her pastors; they told her at the end of the meeting that they did not feel any abuse justified divorce. She asked them repeatedly to show her where in the Bible a divorced woman (abused or not) was forced to return to her ex-husband, and they could not. (Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well does not indicate that He told her to ‘reconcile’ with any of her former husbands.)
It is significant that even at that meeting in March, the senior pastor (Tim) and the counseling pastor (Kevin)
(A) claimed to believe Marie;
(B) claimed to view emotional abuse just as seriously as physical abuse (perhaps more so); and
(C) are good, seemingly compassionate men whom she considered friends. They and their wives had been guests in Marie and her ex-husband's home; they were all friendly (this is significant because Marie is not claiming that anyone had a personal axe to grind against her). She believes, in the words of one counselor, that they were “very well-intentioned, but terribly misguided”.
While the facts of the abuse were not (at least at that point) in dispute, Marie's pastors insisted ‘reconciliation’ was the goal and that Marie was expected to comply. She knew reconciliation was not possible because her ex-husband had reiterated and demonstrated many times in those 20 years that he was NOT going to change. We understand that his defensive, unrepentant attitude continues to the present day and that he completely blames Marie for his anger problems, refusing to admit he has a serious problem.
After meeting with the two HBC pastors in March 2016, the pressure to ‘reconcile’ started immediately. This meant, for them, counseling sessions until they determined Marie's ex-husband was ‘repentant’ at which time Marie would be expected to return to him. Marie's extremely intelligent, calculating ex had one obsession – control. Abusers never want their victims to leave. They will do anything to re-gain control. There were many tricks and intimidation tactics over the next several months, which Marie reported to Tim – to no avail. Pastor Tim even told her that his conversation with her abuser “was just to get his perspective on the divorce”.
It was at this point that Marie started to suspect (and was later proven right) that this whole case was being terribly mishandled. The pastors evidently never actually dealt with the abuse, and the effect was that it worsened. Marie had tried every way she knew how to be the godly, submissive wife God had called her to be, in spite of the increasing verbal and emotional abuse. The more submissive she became, the more abusive her ex-husband became. It was a vicious cycle. When a hospital chaplain was informed about this situation, he described it as “the worst case of psychological abuse I have ever heard of in a Christian marriage, in over 25 years.”
Then on May 5th, Marie received an email from Pastor Tim telling her that she and her ex-husband were going to do the counseling “with the ultimate goal of reconciliation” because of Matthew 18. (The divorce had been processed through Worcester Probate Court two months earlier.) In three paragraphs, he used the word “reconcile” or “reconciliation” 14 times. There was a parenthetical reference to repentance on her abuser’s part, but it was clear he had one agenda: to get Marie back together with her ex-husband (who was, and remains, totally unrepentant). Marie was already under an enormous amount of stress, and that vaguely threatening message from the pastor caused her to have what she now knows was a panic attack at work the next day. She was unable to breathe, shaking uncontrollably, and crying. Fortunately, she works in a hospital and her boss, who knew about her situation (including the pressure from her pastor), paged the hospital chaplain. The two of them sat with Marie until she calmed down and told her in no uncertain terms that HBC is a very toxic, spiritually unhealthy place to be. Marie was referred to a domestic abuse specialist, whom she saw twice, and was diagnosed with PTSD.
A male member of HBC (who is extremely adept theologically) read Pastor Tim’s coercive emails to Marie and offered to speak to Tim on her behalf. He told her, “They’re doing “Matthew 18” on the wrong spouse.” As one of Marie's first defenders, this man and his wife read all the pressuring emails as they came in and supported Marie throughout the ordeal. Later, other church members came forward telling Marie they disagreed with HBC leadership's stance on abuse and divorce generally and their treatment of her personally.
Although no one contested that Marie was the victim, the pastors were tightening the net around her. They wanted Marie to come in for another meeting – her, Pastors Tim and Kevin, and her ex-husband – so they could “look at the Word of God together”. Marie, who is a trained biblical counselor, had a lengthy phone conversation with one of her colleagues who told her she had seen this scenario play out many times before by pastors who were knowledgeable and caring, but they just didn’t understand emotional abuse. Marie's biblical counseling colleague offered to speak to Tim (which she did. She explained to him the lengthy process her center goes through to ensure repentance is genuine – a minimum of a year, usually longer, before any talk of reconciliation occurs). Then Marie's friend and colleague advised her not to let herself be put in that kind of situation ever again – with the two pastors cornering her in a room along with her ex-husband!
A month or so later Marie sent Pastors Tim and Kevin a podcast of an excellent teaching her colleague did at a conference on counseling emotional abuse, which they appreciated. Marie did exactly as she advised her to do – even submitting to counseling herself with another biblical counselor for a couple months. Pastor Tim’s agenda was for the counselor to groom Marie to return to her ex-husband at some undetermined date. The counselor was reluctant to do so; not sure at all that this was God’s will. She explained to Tim her reservations and that her agenda was to focus strictly on Marie's relationship with God.
During this time Marie was attending a DivorceCare support group at a neighboring evangelical church. The curriculum that was taught was almost entirely by ACBC and CCEF counselors. The DivoreCare facilitator disagreed not only with Marie's pastor's stance, but also with his misuse of Matthew 18.
The same month, Marie and Pastor Tim had a lengthy and seemingly positive conversation by phone in which Marie was able to explain more characteristics of her ex-husband’s personality disorder. Her main concern was whether and how the pastors/elders would be able to gauge repentance. Would her ex be able to fool Pastors Tim and Kevin by just saying the right words and doing the merry-go-round of counseling again? Pastor Tim agreed that reconciliation was dependent upon real repentance, so that was good. Marie set two conditions to any talks of ‘reconciliation’: first, that her ex have a full medical and psychiatric assessment, as she was very concerned about his irrational behavior, inconsistent short-term memory, and manifestations of NPD; and secondly, that he admit to the documented abuse and actually repent this time without ‘retracting’ his repentance (as he had before). Tim agreed to these terms and also assured Marie that this was going to be a long, long process whereby no talk of reconciliation would happen under any circumstances for at least a year.
Neither of the above conditions were ever met. Ten weeks later Marie received another email from Pastor Tim asking her where she and her ex-husband were in the ‘reconciliation process’ and what ‘growth and change’ she had seen in her ex.
Marie was shocked, as she had documented everything (including dates, specific statements and incidents, as well as sources). When Pastor Tim asked her about ‘growth and change’, weeks after receiving her pleas for help, Marie responded with a very lengthy and detailed email indicating there had been no repentance by her ex-husband and that no reconciliation process could therefore take place. Divorce had clearly been the correct and only decision in Marie's case. In early August, Pastor Tim preached a sermon on divorce that concerned a number of people in the church because he stated that abuse is not valid grounds for divorce. During some of their conversations, Pastor Tim did confirm for Marie that he believes the Bible allows for separation but not divorce.
For most of August Marie was out of the country on a missions trip; however, she had already begun attending another local church where a close friend – a woman driven out of HBC under very similar circumstances – attends. Marie was unable to heal while attending Heritage Bible Chapel, which is totally understandable because not only did she have to see her ex-husband each time, but she was constantly being pressured to participate in ‘the reconciliation process’ (her ex's lack of repentance notwithstanding). The new church Marie was attending (Cana Community) was planted by a former leader at HBC who is very familiar with Marie's case and that of several other women who have been through similar ordeals.
Over the last 10-12 years, there have been many divorces at HBC (for different reasons), and consistently it is the women who are pressured to reconcile. When they refuse, they are sent an official letter putting them out of the church. This has happened so many times that it has become standard operating procedure. Marie learned that there were secret meetings with hand-picked church members speaking against them, and no matter what the women (in abuse cases) produced as evidence, the husbands were always believed (and in some cases, remain in the church to this day). Marie knows two of the women who had to leave HBC because their abusive husbands managed to convince the elders they were innocent. One woman went to them, police report in hand, and was still told that biblically she had no choice but to ‘reconcile’. Like Marie, she refused and was put out of the church. Marie simply left on her own initiative, knowing that she was 100% in the right. Now she is in a much healthier, Christ-honoring environment where love is preached alongside doctrine. Marie's new pastor has told her that he has seen Matthew 18 misapplied many times and used as a weapon, and has defended her to HBC leadership.
A very important point that must be made is that most (if not all) of these cases which were mishandled (prior to Marie's) happened before Tim and Kevin came to Heritage Bible Chapel. Current leadership was not personally responsible in these prior situations. Some of these women were put out of the church a decade or more ago. However, Pastor Tim cannot deny or plead ignorance to these cases (as he did in an email to Marie dated October 14, 2016) because
(1) HBC keeps scrupulous minutes of meetings, and
(2) a few months earlier, the son of one of the women went and talked to him about the unfair way his mother and other women had been treated.
Another woman (not divorced) left HBC because a former counseling pastor had taught in an adult Sunday School that even if a wife is being beaten, she cannot divorce her husband. A long-time church member then stood up and gave examples of when it might be ‘acceptable’ to slap one’s wife. A furor resulted, and the senior pastor (now retired) tried to do damage control although several people still left the church. These are not recent events, but allegedly there is a long history of marital abuse being swept under the rug at HBC. The onus for ‘reconciliation’ (at all costs) is being put on the women, which is wrong, patently unfair, and unchristian.
On October 5, 2016, Marie's ex-husband, enraged about an objective article she had published about the prevalence of abuse in Christian Slavic marriages, sent her an extremely sarcastic email in which he “demanded” that she revert to her maiden name (which she is not legally bound to do, nor does she intend to do for professional reasons). Two days later, he entrapped her outside his Westboro, Massachusetts office on the pretext of wanting to talk about their children. For two hours he proceeded to tear Marie apart, claiming that his bitterness and anger problems were all, 100% her fault because she was “unsubmissive”. He even admitted to her, with a smirk on his face, that he had played off his abuse to the counseling pastor as “a joke….Kevin laughed about it!”. He had minimized reality and somehow, even with lengthy, repeated testimony, managed to convince the counseling pastor that his verbal abuse was “a misunderstanding” and he was “misunderstood”. He continued to bash Marie and tell her that she was going to hell for her ‘rebellion’. It is doubtful that Pastors Tim and Kevin are aware of this intimidation, as Marie's ex sits in the sanctuary every Sunday with his arms lovingly draped around his kids’ shoulders.
About this time, one of Marie's friends (who has known about her abusive marriage since 2004) posted an article on her Facebook Timeline by Boz Tchividjian, along with the comment "Sound familiar?" Boz's article discussed churches that erroneously send victimized wives back to their abusive husbands. This is the article in question:
Marie had never heard of Boz Tchividjian, but she thought it was a great article that accurately described her marital experience, and said so. There were a number of comments, and a day or two later Marie's 76-year-old mother re-posted the link, and tagged Marie with a comment in her defense. She named Heritage Bible Chapel as needing to be more compassionate with victims of domestic abuse. HBC leaders then got upset because they’d been exposed. The story (via Marie's ex-husband) took on a life of its own and grew into Marie’s mother “sending a letter to the church”. (There was no letter, from anyone. It was simply a FB comment).
In point of fact, Marie’s “supporters”, as Tim derisively called them, were immediate family members and a couple close friends who had known Marie for decades and in some cases were eyewitnesses to the abuse. Those close to the situation who have read the emails Pastor Tim sent to Marie have been appalled. In all of these cases, few as they were, the people who made comments or shared something knew far, FAR more about the situation than either Tim or the HBC elders.
Tim also referred to abuse as a “marital difficulty” in one email and said there was “bilateral sin”, which in context seemed to imply that Marie was somehow partially at fault for the abuse. He made veiled threats about her reputation, which was the beginning of a smear campaign that started after Marie had sent a certified letter in September, revoking her membership at HBC.
He also accused Marie of “slander of her church and pastors”, but neither she nor anyone else close to the situation has stated anything untrue. Slander, by definition, must be false. The HBC leadership seems to be upset because to a certain extent the unbiblical way abuse cases have been handled is being exposed, (in some cases by other victims commenting on the links about their experiences), but that is hardly the same thing as slander. As for Marie, she just wants to distance herself from all the hurt the pastors at Heritage Bible Chapel have put her through – not stir up more. But they continued to accuse her of sin and harass her to come in for more reconciliation talks even months after she resigned from the church and had a no-contact order sent. The fact that Marie's abuser remains unrepentant in his sin and categorically refuses to admit he is an abuser is being ignored. It appears they need a scapegoat – someone to be on the receiving end of ‘church discipline’. Abuse victims are more vulnerable targets and usually easier to manipulate than their abusers, who are masters at control and psychological mind games.
But this time, the one who was abused decided to stand up to them – and tell the truth.
Regardless of who will listen.
Thank God some at Marie's former church have not only listened to her testimony but have spoken out publicly (see screen shots of a couple of comments posted on social media). There are others…
There will be MUCH MORE to share in our upcoming post, so stay tuned…