“According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. Some say the statistics are even higher for emotional abuse.”Hidden Violence (WORLD Magazine)
In 2015, The Gospel Coalition posted a sermon by Jason Meyer. He would become John Piper’s replacement at Bethlehem Baptist Church. In this post, it would appear he was against domestic violence, Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church. He claims to be against emotional abuse but that is not how this pans out in reality. This post is a way to compare what they say to what they do.
Not all abuse cases are the same, even though they may share certain things in common. If you have seen one abuse case, you have seen one abuse case.
We need to distinguish between two types of marital sinfulness: normative sinfulness and abusive sinfulness.
There are spectrums and varieties of domestic abuse. A good working definition of domestic abuse is “a godless pattern of abusive behavior among spouses involving physical, psychological, and/or emotional means to exert and obtain power and control over a spouse for the achievement of selfish ends” (John Henderson).
Does Bethlehem Baptist Church really get domestic abuse? No!
yada, yada, yada….noisy gongs and clanging bells…That’s how I often view these posts. I don’t buy what they say until I hear good stories coming out of these churches.This is not of those good stories.
Natalie Hoffman, a mother of 9, recently wrote Bethlehem Baptist Church Is Not a Safe Church for Women in Emotionally Abusive Relationships. She was the victim of her former husband’s serious emotional abuse over a long period of time. She describes the *counseling* that she received from Bethlehem under Jason Meyer.
Does Jason Meyer and the church get domestic abuse? Not on your life! Meyer demonstrated his lack of understanding and caring by what he and his staff put this poor woman through.
This post is a lengthy and thorough read. It succeeded in convincing me that Bethlehem Baptist is somewhat cult like. Their dogma (some of it is so stupid I can’t even call it doctrine) appears unsafe for people in difficult relationships. I would highly recommend finding a good counselor and an even better church.
Here is an introduction to her story.
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.
Natalie does not beat around the bush. She names the people at the church who counseled her. Many of them believe they are competent to counsel and are on the domestic abuse response team (DART.) My guess is these counselors have received their training from the dangerously weak *Biblical counseling* programs..
As things worsened in her marriage she reached out to others.
I believe she did the right thing in this next example. Sadly, those who received her entreaty, responded poorly.
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.“
Here is another example.
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.
n 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.
Enter the Biblical 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.
…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.)
…At one point she said, “You’ve gone on and on about this stuff already. Can we move on to something else?”
At first, it seemed as if Jason Meyer and other leaders were encouraging her in seeking a divorce from an emotionally abusive husband.
That didn’t last long. The abuse from the church *counselors* began to pick up steam. From one the *counselors:*
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.”
…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.
Natalie disengaged from the *DART* team and proceeded to file for divorce.
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.
…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.
She was not *allowed* to leave the
prison church but she does anyway.
After a disturbing meeting with some team members who became enraged when she asked to record the meeting (her sister came along as a witness), she resigned from the church
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.”
And they shunned her and her children.
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.
There is an interesting section in which she describes (via insiders) how her excommunication proceeded at a church meeting.
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.”
Sadly, I have not reason not to believe her narrative. I have been watching John Piper’s increasing *rules for living,* and have listened to Meyer on a number of occasions. I believe that Natalie was abused by a church that pretends they support women who have been abused.
The caveat is “the women they believe have been abused.” In Natalie’s case, they decided not believe her and attempted to condemn her to life with an abuser.
Folks, I do not recommend Bethlehem Baptist for any person who is struggling. It appears to be be morphing into a cult-like organization which has the ability to harm people who do not toe their exacting line. Hotel California, anyone?
Never forget. No church can hold you hostage. You may leave whenever you want. In fact, if you notify the church that you are leaving and they attempt to harass you, you may have a lawsuit against the church. Matt Chandler found that out and had to apologize and incentivize.
I am so glad Natalie found a wonderful new husband and is free from the bondage imposed on her by Bethlehem Baptist Church.