Of the three surveys I have conducted with A Circle of Joy, this one on spiritual crisis was the one that brought forward the most women identifying as:
- women in ministry
- pastors' wives/ex-wives
or the wife/ex-wife of someone in ministry
It’s fairly clear that women in these positions carry a unique burden of shame and pain around their husband’s addiction. One respondent said:
“I found out about it [his sexual addiction] around our second year together. What made it worse is that he was a pastor... As my trust in my husband faded, so did my trust in God.”
Another woman said:
“I used to be highly involved in ministry and now I can barely make it to church on Sunday. I do know that God loves me theoretically as he loves everyone, but I feel like my personal relationship has been severed.”
A Culture That Cannot Stand
While Jesus has called us to be his face in this world, many of us assume that clergy/pastors are most particularly his representatives. Thus, when these men and women prove to be, not only human, but also caught in sin, our image of God can be damaged.
It’s so important to resist the very human temptation to put people on a pedestal. Easier said than done, however. Some churches promote the idea that the leaders are above the regular Sunday worshipper. For the sex addict, who oftentimes struggles with narcissistic tendencies, it is a very tempting trap.
However, when we raise such a person to a place of power over others, we are going to end up with a very toxic environment. Said the first pastor's wife I quoted:
“In our last church, a man trapped me in a secluded corner of our church building and forced my hand into his crotch. I told my husband immediately what happened. My husband was so deep into his addiction that he did not care. He made jokes about it. He told me that if it bothered me that bad, I should call the police. This man was allowed to continue at our church… This led to so much bitterness toward God.”
Of course bitterness is natural when we feel God has failed to protect us. I hope and pray, however, that this sister has found support to disentangle her feelings about God from her feelings about people. I understand it all becomes a bit of a confusing mess at times, and can be a long journey.
Anger at Christians
A couple of pastors' wives (and the wives of others in ministry) mentioned that their husband was fired (or resigned) from his position when his addiction came out. Obviously, depending how this was done, it could create a lot of pain and bitterness.
There are other reasons why a woman in ministry/wife of someone in ministry might become bitter at Christians. One respondent wrote:
[I] wasn't angry at God. [I] was angry at spiritual leaders: pastors in particular as my husband was also a pastor. I never was very pro church, as a pastor hit on my mom, and since my husband's junk, a pastor was grooming me for a hit as well.
It’s so easy, when we are in the midst of a toxic church-leadership environment, and it is our “world”, to believe:
a. Christianity is a joke (and then possibly move to)
b. If there is a God, he’s not someone you want to know
These are both lies. I understand that for women who have grown up entrenched in church culture, and whose adult lives have centered on it, it is easy to believe, "this is all there is." All the craziness, confusion, sin, misogyny, manipulation and selfishness must be all the Body of Christ has to offer.
My heart hurts for women trapped in this false belief. I’m so glad to read that some of those in ministry have been able to step away from the dysfunction and see the truth. Some of their responses include:
- “I grew to the point of knowing God is my all in all.”
- “I was asked to step down due to my spouse's addictions and infidelity. This really caused me to realize that my identity is not in what I do for The Lord, but in who I am in Him!”
- “I have experienced God’s healing power and love and grace.”
- “I try to remember that God’s truths hold firm and reliable no matter who is sharing them with us.”
- “I have found strength and love with other women who had gone/are going through the same thing.”
For more on the experiences of ministry wives-of-sex-addicts, I recommend re-reading C's posts from earlier this year.
Also, Anne Blythe, of that incredibly valuable coaching resource—Betrayal Trauma Recovery—interviews me here on that topic.