My Abusive Spouse

This allegory is in NO way meant to minimize the horrific and complicated experience of people in abusive relationships. After personal experience with physical, sexual and emotional abuse in relationships, something about what I've been living through in the last few weeks is feeling a bit too familiar.

I have an abusive spouse: The Adventist Church. He's charming and influential. People see him as a humanitarian. And while he does so many good things for others, there's another side to him that few will ever see. He's convinced people that he's caring and that he loves me. I feel as if no one would believe me, even if they heard my side. But I'm taking that risk, and hoping you'll at least listen to my experience in this relationship.

He loves me, he tells me quite often. And yet somehow he keeps telling me to shut up, that I'm not meant to be so vocal about my thoughts. He tells me I'm valuable, and yet never values my opinion unless it's the same as his. Sometimes to make me feel heard, he'll ask what I think, but ultimately he makes the choices by himself and I am just to accept them. I can tell when he's not really listening. That's his role after all. He wants what's best for me, but unfortunately he makes it his responsibility to decide what that "best" really is.

He discourages me from talking too much to my neighbors, because I think he's afraid I'll get ideas from the ways that others live or realize the freedom given in other relationships. I know they're not perfect either, but they seem to have some things figured out that he doesn't. I think he's afraid of what they'll think if they really knew what was going on behind closed doors. He reminds me often that we shouldn't be like other couples. Some women are in charge in other families, but that's because they don't follow the natural order of things.

He tells me that I have a very special role in our relationship, though it's not the one I'm actually skilled to do. He reminds me that I have many ways to contribute to our home, but only within the options he has selected for me. I tried to speak out before, and I was accused of trying to undermine him, and sow the seeds of disunity in our family. Maybe I was trying to sow seeds of something. But only because I know that something needs to change.

I'm at my breaking point. I don't know whether to give in to my fight or flight instincts. Can he really change? Will I ever really feel respected in this relationship? Is it naive to think that change is even possible? I know there's love in there somewhere. But if it keeps being expressed the way it is now, I can't keep accepting it.

I've been in abusive relationships before. Thankfully I was able to leave them. I know many others who have not been able to escape.

Maybe this was my last slap in the face.

The author of this article is a woman employed by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

what a poignant allegory…headship is abusive, plain and simple, which in itself classifies it with other cultural aberrations like polygamy that don’t belong in the adventist church…i’ve been reading on my cell phone that hamid karzai wants to revive stoning in afghanistan, which of course is a type of execution directed mainly at women…cultures like the taliban that practice headship are not the ones adventism should be seeking to embrace, or even accommodate…i simply cannot believe we aren’t all seeing this…


This anonymous experience of metaphorical headship abuse has unfortunately—yet officially—been repeated within the Adventist church since at least 1942, according to the SDA Church Manual for that year: “The president of the conference should be an ordained minister of experience and good report. He stands at the head of the gospel ministry in his conference, and is the chief elder or overseer at large of all the churches” (p. 143). After 2015’s permanent-like pindown, with the no-majority having supposedly weighed the best theological arguments from the Bible, Ellen White and Theology of Ordination Study Committee papers, we can only pray “Robyn” makes the best decision possible after her religion’s third-round decision aided by 1,381 satisfied abusers.


The vote was cast by delegates not necessarily saints. The Gospel is not chattel nor is membership assurance. Justification is a gift by trust in the sure Word of God, Who became flesh, lived and died among us, rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father, so that we might had life everlasting based solely on His completed work. The institutional church is a human effort to provide community worship and service. But we have observed that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. God appeals to the heart, mind and soul not the genitals. Gender is a genetic crap shoot nothing more and nothing less… Christ is the new Federal man, the new Adsm. We are all his children without a cast system. I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day. the S.A. Scene was man at his worst. Pride dominated. Tom Z


So where are all the leading men who, like Des and the hundred-plus pastors who quit their salaried jobs in protest, should today be brave enough to stand for the rights of the abused though their mortgage’s fall? For the many precious souls affected, we can all sense that it is high time our most vocal champions either put up or shut up! Gentlemen?

1 Like

i’m not a social worker, but i have heard that in abusive relationships, both the abuser and victim need treatment…somehow, through some way, we need to figure out how to provide treatment for the “1,381 satisfied abusers” out there…i’m thinking we need to start with some kind of initiative that opens their eyes to the fact that they need help…

one idea that occurs to me is that perhaps our sabbath school department can design adult quarterlies built around an exploration of the various, often subtle ways different cultures, including bible culture, discriminate against women…our quarterlies have generally been designed around the goal of refining doctrinal understandings, but perhaps a more anthropocentric emphasis can be featured, in which a comparative study of cultures of the bible and our 13 divisions with respect to their treatment of women is outlined…i think there would be considerable interest in this virtual traveling tool - who doesn’t love to travel to a completely different part of the world - and if the contributions of some of our qualified academics can be included, sabbath school could suddenly become exciting for some…

how about it, cliff :wink:


Fantastic analogy…completely accurate in its psychodynamic portrayal by those of us who have suffered through an abusive relationship.

Anonymous Author- thank-you and very timely.


While I appreciate your insights, Jeremy, still, with politicized verbiage being used in several of the compromised positions taken by some of the “13 divisions,” each with its unique machismoish, face-saving facade, the abusive writing is now inked on the wall and no human hand is erasing its century-long missive. So there’s really only one sensible recourse, if progressive Adventists are being honest with themselves, and that’s to hold their public heroes accountable until the heaven’s open and the rain falls. Why? Just think about it from “Robyn’s” rational perspective. What kind of “leader” remains employed by an organization that not only condones gender abuse, but repeatedly legislates its practice? Again, after this third strike in our women’s collective face, I can’t help but believe it’s time to stand up like a man or lie down like a bee. I’m done here. Thanks, Spectrum.

1 Like

Do you really believe that Cliff is the man for that job? One who supports the most fundamentalism in Adventists?


There is only one cure for an abusive relationship–leave! Shake the dust off you shoes and get out of Dodge. Salvation is not institutional based. When you leave be sure to take the Psalms, The Gospel of John, Romans, Ephesians, Galatians and Hebrews with you. then share them in all your relationships. Be gracious and generous. live without fear or regrets. left that all at the foot of the Cross. Adventism is a great learning place about yourselve and about human towers of Babal


This is the question I have been asking myself since before SA. Is there hope for change? Not only on the WO level, but also at the local level, where a recent action grates against my personal values? If there is no hope for change, it seems the most mutually-respectful choice I can make might be to transition my membership status.


I am not a pastor, and I am not employed directly by the church (only to the extent to which being employed by and SDA college means being employed by the church), but I still have been tempted to take the kind of stand Jimmy Carter did. If I were to resign my membership in the church, I would automatically lose my job. Of course, in Carter’s case, he did not stand to lose his job over it, and he continues to minister in a local congregation that is part of the denomination from which he removed his membership. I would do the same, as far as possible, if it comes to that.

Honestly, the only thing keeping me a member of the church is that my conference and local church are both continuing to make a stand. If the GC decides to make a more aggressive move against union conferences that currently ordain women pastors, I will have to reassess, but for now, I can be more useful to the cause by staying where I am. Time will tell whether this remains my choice or not, because, you are right, there does come a time when separation is the only morally right thing to do.


There is one thing for sure… there is NO hope for change if all of the abused… and those who sympathize with the abused… leave. The ONLY hope for change is if all of us band together and determine to make this the end of the road for those administrators who are holding to a belief system that makes good evil and evil good.

A good rallying cry might be, “Remember Jan Paulson!” Those who saw how he was “set up” for the abusive heckling that he received at this GC Session … and who also saw how it physically affected him shortly afterwards… as though the strain and shock might have brought on a heart attack or a stroke… see this as a very significant “too far” for any civilized leader to engineer…

The soon-coming GC Executive Council will be a significant deadline… whatever is to be done must be done… both quickly and quietly.


This sounds eerily familiar! By any chance, does he also:

seem driven to always be perceived as right?

make you feel as though your pain is somehow all your fault?

interrupt you mid-sentence because he already knows the truth?

tell you that, after all he’s done for you, you owe him your unquestioning allegiance?

revise past events, to the point that you wonder if you’re crazy for remembering them so differently?


i’ve read clifford goldstein enough to know he isn’t a locked man…and i would think he’d be interested in increasing interest in sabbath schools all over the world…people like the cliffs, clinton whalens and david reads of the world inhabit a certain cerebral zone, no question, and i suspect it’s difficult for them to imagine that streams of ken and wisdom exist far outside concrete apprehension and description…but when the conversation acquires sufficient logical weight, they’ll all come around, don’t worry…

this summer, i’m growing braided chinese hibiscus, an almost iridescent corydalis cava, and a stunning baby yellow orchid…these are all finicky plants, who seem to understand their value - they don’t bloom just like that…very precise growing conditions need to be met to get results…i think people are just like plants…you have to get the right mix of things to get somewhere…gender-neutral ordination and advancement in our church is right, no question, and many of us already see it…but for others, it’s going to take more time…maybe more nitrates, potassium, sun, or specialty nutrient water…maybe an unforeseen combination of things that lights up a spark of some kind :electric_plug:

1 Like

Right along with the ordination situation is the lack of women in financial leadership. In some states, having no control over material resources in a family is considered emotional abuse. So: There’s that. Once a woman is elected GC treasurer and the Denomination encourages divisions and unions to do the same, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other situation rectifies quickly. Or is there some Biblical prohibition against women’s handling gold, as well as ointments? The moneychangers Jesus ran out of the temple were all men.


For the psychiatrists and psychologists here, I’m sure that they would tell an abused partner if it continues with no change, how long are they willing to be the victim that only perpetuates the abuse? If by staying, they are able to make changes, fine. But when there is no change, it could be the time to shake the dust of one’s feet and walk away. But only each individual can make that very personal decision and it will not be the same for everyone. There are strong personalities that are often oblivious to the destruction left in their wake.


This is terribly sad to put the church in such a light whose head is Christ…or do you think that God is not in control? He allows things to happen for a reason.

“If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now has God set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased Him.” 1 Cor 12:15, God is in control of His church, let’s not forget that.

“Therefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also you do.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Except there is no comforting nor edifying going on here.

Let’s cling instead to this promise:

“He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31 Amen.

Have faith guys (everyone). Hang in there.


Put in this context things sound even worse then I imagined! It is time to stop the cycle! How? is the big question. Some people are in places where it is easier to do that then those in areas where they are quite isolated.


i appreciate your positive outlook, sandy, but this ordination policy of ours, which prevents women from rising in the church structure, is a grievance that needs to be addressed…when the five daughters of zelophehad complained to moses about losing their inheritance purely because the law said women couldn’t inherit property, moses didn’t tell them to comfort themselves that god was leading them through a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of cloud by night…instead, he took it to god, who in one fell swoop overturned the law which had resulted in injustice…this is the model our church must follow now…egw clearly calls for godly, capable women to manage our churches, MR19:56, but our law - our ordination policy - isn’t allowing them to do that, resulting in injustice…

i think you may be onto something, winona…most of the objection to wo i’ve seen centers on an unwillingness to accept a woman in a pastoral role, which headship advocates believe signifies a headship role of some kind (although no-one i know views any of the five pastors in my church as their head)…i think there would be less objection to a qualified woman in the position of treasurer or administrative secretary, which are not pastoral roles…perhaps our ordination policy can be amended to ordain women to administration positions as a partial step, before eventually ordaining them to ordained pastoral positions…i’m not sure the whole general conference would need to vote on something like this…