"Marie, we love you in Christ and our hearts ache for the consequences of your choices in your own life and in your family. We are praying that God would lift the blinding effects of your sin and help you to recognize your sin and repent of it so that you might be restored."
HBC Elders (in letter below)
How reprehensible that during this Christmas season the Board of Elders at Heritage Bible Chapel are making an incredible demand of Marie, whose testimony we featured in our post entitled Are Pastors at Heritage Bible Chapel Re-Abusing Wives Harmed in Abusive Marriages?
To recap the story, Marie married a native Bulgarian, and during their 20 years of marriage she endured terrible emotional and psychological abuse, which became increasingly worse. Here is an excerpt from the previous post:
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.)
In the months that followed, the pastors expressed their desire that Marie and her ex-husband work toward reconciliation. Given that the couple had done biblical counseling two years earlier which did not help, Marie had no desire to reconcile with her abusive ex.
On September 28, 2016, Marie sent a certified letter to Heritage Bible Chapel resigning her membership. As an American citizen, Marie is free to associate or disassociate with a voluntary organization. There was also a signed return receipt, indicating that the letter had indeed been received by the church. The letter Marie sent was very similar to the sample letter included in a TWW post published almost five years ago. It is entitled How to Mimimize Damage When Resigning from a Mark Driscoll-like Church.
On October 14, 2016, the HBC elders sent Marie an email response, which included the following:
The covenant that you entered into when you became a member does not permit you to resign during circumstances such as these.
Marie did not respond to this email. Over a month went by, and the elders sent Marie the following correspondence:
Keep in mind that Marie resigned from her church on September 28, 2016, by certified letter. What don't these elders understand???
So according to the above church correspondence, if Marie doesn't change her ‘heart’ condition and repent of her ‘sinful choices’ by December 23, 2016, HBC elders will hold a church-wide meeting in which they will tell their version of events, and Marie will be publicly chastised.
The church refuses to recognize the divorce, claiming that abuse does not constitute grounds for divorce. For ten long months they relentlessly pressured Marie to pursue reconciliation. It was her understanding that any eventual reconciliation would be contingent upon her abuser’s confession of the abuse, repentance, and subsequent changed heart and life; but sadly just the opposite has happened. Nevertheless, Marie is the one painted as being ‘in sin’ (and therefore subject to church discipline).
Her ex-husband, bolstered by the support of his church, continues to intimidate, humiliate, and smash Marie down any and every chance he gets. Her ex-husband has successfully manipulated and swayed the pastors at Heritage Bible Chapel to his cause. Unfortunately, conservative churches seem predisposed to believe the man (especially absent physical abuse), no matter how much testimony and specific data/documentation the woman produces in her own defense.
Marie wishes she didn’t have to share her testimony; however, what choice does she have? In January 2017, these men will call a meeting in the church where Marie served for eleven years; raised her children; counseled hurting women, and taught Bible studies. They will spin their side of the story, which is full of half-truths, misinformation, and twisting of the truth. Therefore, she is telling her side of what happened. It is her fervent prayer that this will help prevent further church-sanctioned castigation of abused women.
Last Friday Dee Made a Phone Call…
Lest any of our readers think we are springing all of this on the pastors and elders of Heritage Bible Chapel without their prior knowledge, let us put your minds at ease. At Marie's request, Dee phoned the church last Friday and spoke with Pastor Tim. She introduced herself and our blog and said that we would rather not write about Marie's situation. If they would withdraw their demands of Marie and leave her alone as her resignation letter requested, all of this could be put to rest. Dee said to Pastor Tim something along these lines:
You do understand that this situation is pretty bad, and it's not going to look good for your church if we publish Marie's story. Is this the hill you want to die on?
She told him that if he wished to make a statement, we would publish it verbatim either as a stand alone post or as an update to a post. Dee also told him that he is more than welcome to leave a comment under the post regarding Marie's story.
To that Tim responded: "I do not think that would be wise."
She also asked Tim whether he knew that 9Marks is loosening their stance on congregants leaving their churches and urged him to contact Jonathan Leeman.
Hey folks, it's important to remember that in the United States a person has the right to break a contract with a voluntarily association, and that includes churches. Attempting to prevent someone from exercising this right could result in dire consequences…
We are happy to report that Marie is finally in a solid church, receiving Godly counsel and trying to forgive not only her ex-husband, but also her former pastor for the damage he has done.
In order to bring this matter to a close, the pastors at Heritage Bible Chapel should inform Marie in writing that they are ceasing and desisting their efforts to draw her back into her former church for correction and to begin reconciliation efforts, and they should apologize for the pain they have caused her and her family by this illegal harassment. Otherwise, the next step will be taken…
To brighten Marie's spirit this Christmastide, we are sharing a wonderful rendition by the Vienna Boys' Choir.
Marie, may you feel God's love during this wonderful Christmas season when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.