** 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.
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:
â€˘ Frequent injuries or "accidents"
â€˘ Partner harassing victim
â€˘ Fear of partner
â€˘ Personality changes in victim (once outgoing and no longer)
â€˘ Excessive fear of conflict
â€˘ Submissive behavior
â€˘ Isolation from friends and family
â€˘ Monetary control/abuse: not enough money given to victim for reasonable living expenses
â€˘ Depression, crying, low self-esteem
â€˘ Physical abuse
â€˘ Emotional and psychological abuse
â€˘ Sexual abuse
â€˘ Economic/financial abuse
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.
|Christina Montoya Fiedler resides in Los Angeles, CA, with husband Andy and her son Joseph. She juggles baby and work from home as a freelance publicist and attributes her strong love for life and sense of humor to her loving familia.|