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My Husband Assaulted Me, My Church Took His Side

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Sheri Ferber was violently attacked by her husband. What happened after was just as abusive.

Sheri Ferber

** Editor's Note: The following story was brought to our attention through the incredible women in our Community, where outreach and support for Sheri Ferber abounds. We attempted to contact Saddleback Church for a comment, but have yet to hear back.

Christina Montoya Fiedler: Five years ago, Sheri Ferber was violently attacked by her husband on the way home from Sunday service. Strong in her Christian faith, she turned to her church, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, for help. Saddleback is one of the largest churches in the country, and is lead by the very popular Rick Warren, author of the best selling "Purpose Driven Life." Many know Warren from his summit between then Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

Sheri says she attempted to confide in a pastor, who refused to hear her story. She says that pastor even called her husband to warn him that she had been "gossiping about their marriage." As a parishioner for 10 years, Sheri was devastated. She says she then went to Warren, Saddleback's leader, but was repeatedly rebuffed by his large staff. She says the closest she ever got to Warren was his assistant. He never responded to her repeated requests. Sheri tells us, "I felt like a kitten out in the rain searching for any open door to come in out of the cold."

Her church, like many other Evangelical denominations, believes in traditional gender roles. These roles command a wife to be submissive to her husband, as he is the leader of and provider for the household. Along with this comes the belief that there are very few reasons for divorce. Domestic abuse, as unfortunate as it is, is not one of them.

Momlogic sat down with Sheri Ferber to hear her side of the story and learn more about her church's views on gender, abuse, and marriage.

ML: Most Evangelical churches teach from the point of view of traditional gender roles, where wives submit to husbands' protection and leadership. Do you think this allows abusers to justify their actions?

Sheri: I believe an abuser will use any method or means to justify their actions. But on the reverse, there are men who love their wives like the Bible indicates, and like what I believe was its true intention, where a man would stop at nothing to protect his wife and family -- providing for them, leading them with a servant's heart. Men and women need to be taught to love, honor, and protect one another better. Marriage is a partnership, not a dictatorship. There is a humble submission and preference for one another's needs, never forcing ourselves on the other person.

I also believe most churches teach the true meaning of the word SUBMIT. Even Saddleback Church teaches from a perspective of mutual submission. There are those who take the submit term out of context and make it a buzzword for feminism topics.

ML: What does your support group consist of now? (Note: Sheri has become very close to her former husband's ex-wife, who was also a victim of extreme physical and emotional abuse.)

Sheri: I have an amazing set of friends -- true friends, some neighbors, some I grew up with or went to college with. When I make a friend, I usually keep them for life. The sad reality is, those who were there for me the most were friends who were not affiliated with any church or religion. It hurt me deeply to watch my non-Christian friends see what the church was and was not doing. When the storm hit, my non-Christian friends were the most Christian in love and deed. They came to my side, made sure my home had what it needed, made sure my son had everything he needed, and more. They brought food, they did my laundry, helped keep my shades open, took walks with me. I also have a very supportive mother. She loved me through it all.

Angela, my former husband's first wife, and I are close now. We connected after the incident with Mark. Initially, when I met Mark, I had heard that she "falsely" accused him, and he was later arrested for another case of domestic violence. His mother invited me to the court hearing and asked me to help her pray for justice.

The way Angela and I connected was rather miraculous. I did not have her phone number, nor did I know where she lived. While Mark and I were married, he blocked any form of communication between us.

After that dark November day in 2003, I was compelled to pray and ask God for truth. That morning, Angela's place of work popped into my head. I dialed information and secured the number; I asked for her, but she was no longer there. The person who answered the phone relayed the message that I was calling, and within 45 minutes, Angela and I were speaking. What she said was chilling. She first said, "I have been expecting your call," and then shared her side of what she endured at the hands of this man.

Now we speak regularly, discussing everything under the sun. We pray together, laugh together, and are committed to our friendship and remain close for not only our boys' sake, but because we love each other as sisters.

As far as a church, I have found a new home just this past April. I have met with the pastor; he read about my story before I would consider making it my permanent home. I wanted to know if there would be room for me there. He opened his arms wide for my children and me, and he assured me that he believes physical abuse is a form of abandonment and can be grounds for divorce.

ML: Please explain how you felt, to be not only abused by your spouse, but "abused by your church"?

Sheri: Saddleback was MY church. It was my home. It was MY family. I had served there for years. This was NOT my husband's church. When we were married, he had me attend HIS church. But, I continued to go to service in both places. When I went to MY church for help -- there was none. The church never asked for my story, never asked to see the police report, never ever asked for facts. I made dozens of calls to the church for assistance via prayer and Godly counsel. They allowed my husband to come in, and be a part of the two ministries I had served in. All help was cut off.

No matter how many times I asked for them to review the facts, I was denied. Because he is gifted in ministry/music, he was immediately elevated in the worship. No one was holding him accountable but the legal community.

For four years after the birth of our son, he has been given more and more leadership responsibility. Meanwhile, he has not ever set eyes on this little boy, and no one [at Saddleback] seems to think it is necessary.

ML: Do you think other women in church communities have experienced the same responses from their church pastors?

Sheri: Sadly, I do think that many have experienced similar responses. This is the case of the three monkeys: Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil -- and thereby do nothing to stop the EVIL that abounds.

I also know there are many churches out there that get it right. They see abuse for what it is and deal with it accordingly.

ML: What can you tell women who are either in an abusive relationship or think that they might be in one?

Sheri: Abuse hurts more than your body and your reputation. It hurts the children. It hurts the entire body of Christ. We cannot cover the wrong and think it will get better. We must ask for help. Bring light to it. We have to know we play a part in it so much if we stay and do not get assistance. It is like a cancer -- we cannot heal it by saying it is not there. The earlier it gets addressed, the better the chances of recovery. Cancer untreated can kill. Some women choose to stay. I am not going to judge that. But if you do, you must know you are risking your life. There are statistics that are published that will help you to understand you are not alone. I am not a professional, but I will say there are resources out there to help you. You cannot expect the church to be there. I learned this the hard way.

Sheri's ex was convicted of domestic violence and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. He served 45 days of that sentence. He was also sentenced to three years probation, one year of weekly domestic violence counseling and community service. He was also ordered to stay at least one mile away from Sheri, perform community service and pay her restitution.

If you believe you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, here are the signs to look for, according to momlogic expert Dr. Michelle Golland:

The most predominant warning sign is simply fear of your partner. Are you controlled and belittled? If yes, then you may be in an abusive relationship. Other typical signs include:

•Frequent injuries or "accidents"
• Partner harassing victim
•Fear of partner
• Personality changes in victim (once outgoing and no longer)
• Excessive fear of conflict
• Submissive behavior
• Isolation from friends and family
• Monetary control/abuse: not enough money given to victim for reasonable living expenses
• Depression, crying, low self-esteem

Relationship violence takes many forms. It may include one or all of the following:

• Physical abuse
• Emotional and psychological abuse
• Sexual abuse
• Economic/financial abuse

For more on Sheri Ferber's story, please visit the Momlogic Community.

For more information on spousal abuse, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233), or visit their website at www.ndvh.org.



next: Enough is Enough! We Must Protect Kids Now
69 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous August 5, 2009, 10:43 AM

I had a similar story. When I spoke with a church counselor about past abuse from an ex. he tried to counsel me on what I needed to do to make the marriage work since they didn’t believe in divorce and felt that I should submit to that demonic man. I left him and that church. Well that was 15 years ago and since then I have been in a loving, “Christian” relationship with mutual respect and honor.

Wendi August 5, 2009, 12:14 PM

It makes me so sad to hear that a church would treat a woman this way. I hate that these pastors call themseleves that. It is said in the Bible that we should obey our husbands and they are the head of the house, however, I have never for one minute thought that our Saviour ment that we should be abused by the man we trusted most. This is just not the case. Any good pastor with the right thing in his sights would know this. I just really hope that this type of thing does not happen with all churches and that you should really check out your church in every area. Meet the pastor and staff and ask what the church believes and what is their mission. If you disagree with them, then try another one. But don’t give up.

Liz  August 5, 2009, 2:10 PM

I have been involved with several evangelical churches. None of these churches would have supported an abusive husband in this manner. The husband is head of the household, this means he is to have his family covered in prayer, lead them spiritually on a proper, biblically sound path. This does not include misusing scripture or authority. All christians should not be involved with any orginization that condones any form of violence, whether it be spousal abuse or abortion.

Liza  August 5, 2009, 2:14 PM

This makes me so mad it’s not even funny. By the way this is the SAME CHURCH that OUR president and John Mccain did a meeting at. I Guarantee you neither would have shown up if they had known about this! This is such a disgrace, especially coming from a church as grand as Saddleback. I have friends who go there and I will DEFINITLEY be forwarding this to them.

aerialla August 5, 2009, 2:24 PM

I had a similar problem with a church. It becomes a big problem when the man is not only your husband, but the pastor. People had a hard time believing that a man of God could harm is wife, especially when they were newlyweds. He was very careful never to hit me, it was the mental and spiritual abuse that sent me to a hospital for attempted suicide. Once that was found out there was a congregational hearing and people from the head church was called in. Come to find out there were quite a few people in the congregation that had problems with him. Come to find out, he married me thinking it would save his job. Many members of the church board new that he had problems and not one person stepped forward before our wedding to tell me. He lost the church and was told to take a 2 year sabbatical. This didn’t help me because I was married to him. Luckily I had the good sense to wake up and smell the coffee. We were divorced 6 weeks later. I moved on and found Buddhism, it helped me to pick up the pieces of myself that he destroyed. I will never go back to Christianity again.

Kitty August 5, 2009, 2:45 PM

The truth will win.
-with love - Kitty

Erika August 5, 2009, 2:55 PM

This story is incredible. I can’t believe of all places a church would turn away an abuse victim. It’s sad to think that the one place you should be able to turn to you can’t. The one thing that makes me even more so mad about the situation is that it was HER church. Sheri grew up there, there should have been resources she could turn to involving the church. I’m so glad to hear that everything is over with, everyone deserves REAL happy-ness!

chrisd August 5, 2009, 4:40 PM

I am sickened to hear that this man who clearly has problems has been elevated to a leadership position.

Where is the accountability?

Better to have a less strong music ministry than to have him as a leader.

Not good.

paulmoore August 5, 2009, 5:48 PM
Keri Wyatt Kent August 5, 2009, 6:19 PM

The Bible does not say the husband is the head of the household, the house or even the family. The Bible does use the analogy of a husband and wife being like a head and body. Head not meaning “boss.” In other words, the two become one flesh. They need each other, and submit to one another. The bible talks about mutual submission (no dictator, but one team!). This incident makes me so sad, because these folks are twisting what the Bible says.

Joyce August 5, 2009, 6:24 PM

I recall a story in the newspaper years ago - I kept the clipping for a long time in my billfold- about a poor Asian man, so hungry he was trying to eat leaves. He asked for help from one or two of the local churches but they turned him away. He ended up on the “bad” end of town and the “sinful” folks in the bars fed him and found him a place to sleep. So much for wonderful “Christians”.

Sylvia August 5, 2009, 6:58 PM

Sadly to say the church is often the only army that shoots it’s wounded. The Bible also commands for the man to love his wife as Christ loved the church & gave His life for it.Love is never sadistic.As I heard one preacher state a man who abuses his wife has already abandoned her.

A friend of mine was excommunicated after having sex with a brother in the church. The pastor admitted both were guilty but because the woman had sexual sins in her past they had to cast her out into the world in hopes she’d repent. Those past sins were the very reason she didn’t realize until years later it was date rape. Though she had told him no repeatedly and he had tore her clothes off she still felt that somehow she had done something to entice him and thus subconsciously wanting it. The church’s reaction seemed to confirm it.

Christians are supposed to support each other but not w/o searching for the truth first & reaching out to both parties involved. It sounds like the church is lost. Not you. Thank God we’re only in His image. Our spirit is a long way from being like him. I pray you find the peace of mind to not judge the Lord by those who claim to serve him.

BWHuffman August 6, 2009, 12:25 AM

There’s an old saying ‘there are 2 sides to every story’ All these people are making posts here without the benefit of the other side. Yes it sounds bad, but since this is America, even the Church and the husband are inocent until proven guilty.

Bake Master August 6, 2009, 1:37 AM

She shoulda stayed in the kitchen

Dave August 6, 2009, 2:12 AM

This article makes the inaccurate statement that domestic abuse is not considered a justification for divorce in an evangelical church. This is simply not true.

One of the criteria for divorce is that the husband is “spiritually dead.” If he abuses his wife, he is breaking the command to love his wife’s body as his own. By the time she leaves him, the abuse will inevitably have occurred more than once, indicating that the husband has not truly repented.

My parents’ church is under the authority of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. It is an evangelical denomination which split apart from the Presbyterian church a long time ago. They are very similar to the Southern Baptist Convention to which the church mentioned in your article is affiliated. I credit that church for having made me the atheist that I am; at times their beliefs wandered far into the absurd. However, it has always been their policy, from the time they were founded, that domestic abuse is a reasonable grounds for divorce.

There was, at one time, a member of their church who attempted to insist that he had the right to “discipline” his wife. He was excommunicated and a restraining order was requested that forbade him from being on church property or contacting members of the church. His wife was housed in a women’s shelter that is sponsored by the church and she was encouraged to press criminal charges. My parents’ denomination rarely excommunicates. They frown on the practice, because of the admonition to “judge not lest you be judged.” But it was decided to make an example of him.

This article facilitates the behaviour of that church. While they claim that their religion justifies his behaviour, you affirm it with your accusations. You are helping to reinforce the impression that certain arcane rules are still followed. In reality, no legitimate Christian church would force a woman to stay with an abusive husband.

No Christian church, including the Roman Catholic Church, has ever condoned domestic violence. The premise is as much an urban legend as the infamous “rule of thumb.” For that matter, all forms of Islam and Judaism also forbid domestic violence and consider it grounds for divorce.

This however, is something that happens a lot in the United States: the USA has traditionally placed heavy legal emphasis on the concept that “a man’s home is his castle.” For this reason, American policies have leaned toward tolerating domestic abuse under the argument that the state should not intervene in private matters. The church is not acting on its doctrine, or on any religious premise but rather on a secular tradition. I would expect that a complaint to the leadership of that church’s denomination would result in at least some form of action. American churches are notorious for their disgusting apathy toward domestic abuse but they are accountable to the rest of the Christian world. This should not be ignored. She and her husband’s ex-wife should complain at the highest possible level.

Aubrey August 6, 2009, 8:25 AM

Sheri I just want to say “good for you!” For not giving into your church’s lack of help. It takes a lot of strength to leave a religion like that. To not become submissive of their theologies and to not become submissive to an abusive husband. I’m glad you listened to your heart and to the Lord. God would NEVER think it would be okay to abuse a woman. I wish the best of luck to you and you have my full support.

K. Cleaver August 6, 2009, 10:15 AM

I’m in a traditional marriage and I have to “submit” to my husband. You need to read the rest of the verses and put everything into context.

Ephesians 5:21-31 (If you don’t have a bible, you can simply “google” it.)

Husbands are also suppose to love their wife as much as Christ loves us. God let his son Jesus die on the cross for us. That is how much he loves us.

It’s not just “women must submit to our husbands”. There should be a lot of love coming from our husbands as God also commands.

I’m sorry for her getting into a marriage of abuse. I think it’s awful that her husband didn’t love her like God commanded. I can’t imagine any respectful church treating an abused spouse with anything but respect. She’s been through an awful situation and I pray she gets the help she needs.

jim August 6, 2009, 12:15 PM

It looks like one side of the story. How do you test what was said. Hard to imagine a pastor saying to Sheri to go home and keep taking a beating. That would be 180 degrees against what Pastor Rick has preached against this so many times.
Looking forward to who you contacted at Saddleback Church and response.

mprice August 6, 2009, 3:02 PM

Sad to say this happens in every church. If the pastor was so weak that he felt the only way to get through to his wife is by beating her he’s a poor excuse for a man. Also, he’s a poor excuse for a pastor and its frightening to think he’s a leader in his community. Not sure why the break down happened regardless it happened. They really need to get into Retrovaiile.

jim August 6, 2009, 5:17 PM

This is a terrible tragedy. With all of the education available on abuse we would like to think and hope, that a church of this size and popularity, would have EDUCATED leaders. Apparently not.

Hopefully this article will be publised and circulated so that the church and it’s “unprofessional unleaders” will have to acknowledge their unfair treatment of her and MAKE AMENDS….Step down from their positions because they are not educated or fit to lead.


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