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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
rick August 6, 2009, 5:21 PM

This does not surprise a lot of people. Extreme relgious groups of all kinds justify extreme treatment.
They take advantage of their members in this way….


Rick

ame i. August 6, 2009, 5:47 PM

So sad. I’m a member of a great Methodist church. Not that he would, but if my husband ever laid a violent hand on me, my father, brother, uncles,cousins, male friends from church would make sure he never did it again.
I fail to believe that The God I know and love advocates either spouse harming the other.

Lynette August 6, 2009, 10:16 PM

Just goes to show that you can be good without a god. Non-christian/atheists are typically going to be sympathetic b/c we’re humanists—we believe in helping one another and reaching out to the human cause. We don’t believe in neanderthal norms that say just because you have a vagina means you can get beaten up and pushed around or stuck in the corner. It hurts my heart to know that people use ideology that’s “okay’d as a good thing” as any excuse for wrongdoing.

linda August 7, 2009, 4:02 PM

Col 3:19 HUSBANDS,LOVE YOUR WIVES AND DO NOT BE HARSH WITH THEM

Angie August 11, 2009, 8:54 AM

There’s no excuse for any man to beat a woman, it does not matter what “his side of the story” is. And that goes for abuse from a woman to a man, a parent to a child, etc. It is foolish to think violent actions of any kind can be justified. Justification is what brings violence and ill-will into our lives because someone thinks they have a “good reason” to hurt or even kill someone else.

PAMELA August 11, 2009, 9:50 AM

WOW I am shocked I thought Rick Warren was a great pastor I have even done his studies, I too was in a horrible abusive relationship that I am lucky I got out of and I am so glad my church was there all the way with me helping me not sure what I would have done without them I am so sorry you went through all this I will keep you in my prayers

Karen August 11, 2009, 10:45 AM

I’ve been through a similar situation. When I asked for help from his pastor, I was told that because I was so hard-headed and unsubmissive, that my husband was right to mistreat me. He has been elevated in ministry year after year, and now is a pastor in his own church. It’s really sad that there are still churches out there that hold women to being submissive, but they have a very different standard for men. They tell us we are subservient to our husbands and have to obey no matter what they ask.

Fatenia August 11, 2009, 12:00 PM

For a minister who claims he is a man of God but believes in men beating women, I believe he was trained wrong. Men forget that they have mothers and if a man was sitting on his duff beating on them, they would have an inane hissy fit. I think that if she wants out, execute a plan, pack up whatever part of her dignity she has and leave him. I spent 20 years with a physically, emotionally and mentally abusive man who abused drugs. I eventually got tired of it, and once I had gotten my child away, I left him 9 years ago. I left mine’s 9 years ago and am the better for it.

cg August 11, 2009, 4:18 PM

first i must state that i am very sorry that you experienced this at all sheri- it was wrong and cruel. your husband was wrong and so was your “church”. that being said, KERI WYATT KENT: you are mistaken. the bible DOES say that a man is the HEAD of his household. notice what is said at 1Corinthians 11:3 man IS accountable to Christ and ultimately to God. And God expects man to exercise his headship lovingly as mentioned at Ephesians 5:25. his headship must never be in a violent or tyrannical way. Nor does it mean that a husband’s authority is absolute. the absolute authority rest w/ the Creator. i’m sure we are all praying the best for her and her family.

Lisa August 11, 2009, 6:15 PM

I had a very similar situation. My husband was not only abusive, but was also cheating on me. Our church wrapped their arms around him, but never reached out to me in any way. His family behaved as if I were the one who got caught cheating. It was an eye-opener for me.

angelina diantonio August 11, 2009, 6:16 PM

No church should treat anyone with so much disrespect. What have we gone gone backwards 100 years ? Church should be somewhere we can feel safe NOT ashamed !

jude August 13, 2009, 2:44 PM

story states: “she attempted to confide in a pastor, who refused to hear her story.” that’s not being very specific. actual details are missing from this picture. for instance, did she show up while pastors were in an important meeting, or did she make an appt? very sketchy …i prefer details, not emotions.

I was there August 14, 2009, 3:05 PM

Being close to this situation The story is accurate…

She followed proper protocol when reporting the incident. (according to Matt 18 She first went to a couple and together they went to the pastor. (who knew her well - he had been her bible study host and served in the choir for years together) It was on church property, during a meal after a memorial service.

Cathie Underwood August 15, 2009, 8:52 PM

Dear blogger,

As a church, we want to protect Sherri Ferber’s needs for ministry and healing – that is why we exist! We find ourselves in a difficult position, because we also want to protect the proven integrity and reliability of our teams that serve literally tens of thousands of hurting people. We do not discuss the details of an individual’s counsel with our ministerial staff. We can say this: Saddleback church, in our training and counseling and pastoral care, always advises that a woman or man who is facing domestic violence IMMEDIATELY get to a place of safety. This has been true since the beginning of the church 30 years ago. All of the pastors at Saddleback who spent significant time helping and praying for Sherri continue to pray for her protection and healing.”


Angela J. August 16, 2009, 12:52 PM

First, who is Cathie Underwood really? If you google her name it is obvious she is a media rep who seeks out Saddleback articles and responds favorably on behalf of Saddleback.

If we spoke with Sheri Ferber I am sure we would find that Sheri does not know who this Cathie is nor was she at any point involved in the facts of this ordeal. If what Sheri is saying is not true has the church EVER contacted her to get to the bottom of the allegations? If what she is saying is not true it could be slanderous! No hiding behind “confidentiality” - this is just a form of CHURCH abuse and must be stopped.

With regard to the article, it is clear that no matter what Saddleback did they could have done more to support a 10 year member of their church. The real question is to the church as a whole how can the “CHURCH” deal with Domestic Violence in a more effective and appropriate way?

Obviously, Sheri did not leave that situation better so if the church’s desire is to enhance the lives of its members and the people GOD had for them to touch, WHAT HAPPENED?

In my experience the church picks and chooses the issues they will focus on as well as the members they will support…HOW could THIS be of GOD?

The real issue is not simply with Saddleback but with the CHURCH as a whole and GOD IS NOT PLEASED.

Articles such as this help to expose the truth and the truth shall set us free!

Cate Carlson August 17, 2009, 3:13 PM

Cathie Underwood, I think someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. As a former member of Saddleback Church who walked through this with Sheri (by the way it is not Sherri) I don’t remember anyone spending any “significant” time in trying to help her unless you call one meeting with a pastor and his wife in which she was not allowed to bring up the assault during the meeting significant time. I sure don’t! And “ALL” the pastors you claim tried to help her wouldn’t return her call once she had told them what happened even through they made promises to look into it. If you call that help I don’t! But maybe we have a difference in opinion about what help and significant time is. What I don’t understand is WHY IS THIS MAN WHO ASSAULTED MY FRIEND AND REFUSES TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT AND HAS NEVER SEEN HIS SON STILL A LEADER AT SADDLEBACK!

Marzette Hanoian August 17, 2009, 5:33 PM

As Sheri’s friend, I am saddened by this, but I know she is a women of integrity, and wisdom, and if anyone were to speak out about this, I’m glad it is her. She is not bitter, but rather speaks about the injustice. She loves the Lord, but also wants to see people walk in freedom and healthy relationships. She is the perfect example that you can walk through a storm or the valley of the shadow of death and come out unscathed. She is not a forever victim, but walking under the protection of her God. He has taken care of her and blessed her, and He will do the same for anyone that will call upon His name.

Kim August 18, 2009, 5:02 PM

Sheri, I’m so sorry for all you went thru! I’m glad you’re out of that…. abusive marriage AND abusive church!!
I was in an abusive and controlling church for 13 yrs …and when I needed help the most, they only tightened their noose! Then accused me of everything under the sun and convinced my husband I was evil, and nearly split our marriage and home! This is the sad truth about power and money-hungry people in religious authority!
GOD’s TRUE Church is not that way!! There are some really good and caring churches out there! Just SO GLAD your story is being heard and I hope the best for you and your dear children!!!

Kim August 18, 2009, 5:16 PM

“What I don’t understand is WHY IS THIS MAN WHO ASSAULTED MY FRIEND AND REFUSES TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT AND HAS NEVER SEEN HIS SON STILL A LEADER AT SADDLEBACK!”
- Cate Carlson

YES, I’d love to know the answer to that as well… but sadly, all that matters in “churches” (they are NOT of the TRUE Church) is that anyone who is a PUPPET of theirs gets promoted!

I am glad this story is getting out, because at least those who read will be warned and ….those who choose not to hear, I’m sorry for them!


Kim August 18, 2009, 6:01 PM

“Obviously, Sheri did not leave that situation better so if the church’s desire is to enhance the lives of its members and the people GOD had for them to touch, WHAT HAPPENED? In my experience the church picks and chooses the issues they will focus on as well as the members they will support…HOW could THIS be of GOD? The real issue is not simply with Saddleback but with the CHURCH as a whole and GOD IS NOT PLEASED. Articles such as this help to expose the truth and the truth shall set us free!” - Angela J.

Angela J., this statement is so sad, and accurate even to my own experience in a similar “church” …I am a servant and a child of the Most High GOD and I am not bitter against Him! Churches such as this are not His, but represent those CHRIST spoke of when He said “not every person who says, ‘LORD, LORD!’ will enter into Heaven.” (false prophets)


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