The Women’s Advocates Set Fire to the Rain

I let it fall, my heart,
And as it fell you rose to claim it
It was dark and I was over
Until you kissed my lips and you saved me

My hands, they’re strong
But my knees were far too weak,
To stand in your arms
Without falling to your feet

But there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew.
All the things you’d say
They were never true, never true,
And the games you play
You would always win, always win.

But I set fire to the rain…

“Set Fire to the Rain” Adele

There is a reason this song went to Number One in so many nations.

The Elders asked my wife and I to mediate a marriage conflict between two members of our church; this couple had a long history of angry argumentation and locked wills during their 14 years as members.  As we began the mediation, the wife was eager and cooperative, but the husband was generally not responsive.

As we pushed the mediation process along, I took an opportunity to introduce Christ’s death on the cross as payment for all their sins, the foundation concept they would need to begin forgiving each other.

To my great surprise, the wife suddenly looked up at me with the unmistakable expression of a starving puppy.  In response, I expanded on the work of Christ on her behalf; wide-eyed, she devoured my words as if she had never heard them before.  The husband sat as before, with a bored expression on his face.

I was puzzled: How could she be so starved for the gospel?  And how could he sit there ignoring her body language?  Then an appalling insight dawned on me: all week long, week after week, her husband was twisting the gospel into some vicious kind of shame weapon—and he was using it and our church to emotionally beat her down.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.  Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.  Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.  But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

Fortunately, this man was not the first of his kind that I had encountered.  In fact, he was the third in a string of malignant narcissists we had become involved with.  They were an alarming crew; we were caught completely unprepared to deal with their vicious bullying.  But by a clear working of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, a pastor who served briefly at our church previously worked as a counselor in a state penitentiary—counselling men who had physically beat their wives, and were now in jail for it.  He coached me what to do in what he called “your assignment from God”.

I can never forget the moment when he asked me “Were the bruises high up—where she could hide them?”  Chilled to the bone, I then understood: even in his violent rage, the husband was coldly calculating.  And he was using the church as a weapon, to keep her emotionally imprisoned in shame.

Stunned, I recalled the passage where Paul prepared the young pastor Timothy for this very same phenomenon—narcissists infesting the church, and beating women up by twisting the gospel into something it is not, something brutal.

But there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew.
All the things you’d say
They were never true, never true,
And the games you play
You would always win, always win.

Paul’s instructions make it clear that we are to expect this obscene phenomenon as the norm, not the exception; worse, it would not only appear in the secular world—it would appear in the local church, and Timothy would need to get the church prepared for it.  As this truth sank in, I thought through our church governance.  Who could (and should) discipline these monstrous husbands?  Clearly, in the Book of Church Order, the Elders are charged with the necessary authority, and are held responsible to act.

When I tried to imagine in a mental movie how this discipline process would unfold, the enormity of the ministry gap hit me hard: it would never start.  I was appalled.  What shame-beaten woman would come to the Elders—a bunch of grumpy-looking old men whose names she hardly knows—on her own initiative, and explain her intimate and embarrassing plight?  And because it would never start, these narcissist bullies would continue to infest the church.

So I tried imagining a different process, where the abused woman was first enfolded by other women, with gentle hands and soft hearts, who could help her eventually to find a voice before the Elders.  They would start the discipline process on her behalf, because they would know how it worked.  They would know how it worked because Elders would train them.  And these women would have confidence in bringing the beaten woman before the Session, because once they were trained, the Session would formally commission them to this work.

The training of Women’s Advocates necessarily includes six elements.  First and foremost, they need to know the sections of the Book of Church Order that require the Elders to discipline unrepentant members; they need to know how the Elders are authorized and required to perform this distasteful but essential duty.  If the Elders will not do their duty, they are simply enabling the abuse; the Advocates need to know how to hold Elders accountable to Presbytery.  Second, because the women may be financially cut off by their abusive husbands, the Advocates need to know how to work with the Deacons to meet her needs.

Third, because the civil authorities have a God-ordained role in marital disputes, divorce and physical abuse, they need to know how protection orders are obtained, how separation and divorce are handled, and they will need to know their legal responsibilities to report physical abuse of minors.  Fourth, because the beaten woman is prone to co-dependency, the Advocates will need to know how to work with professional Christian counsellors.  Fifth, because her husband is creating conflict in order to beat her down with it, the Advocates will need to know the basics of peace making: the six scriptural tools and the diagnosis of identity weapons and idols of the heart.  They need to understand the redemptive role of biblical separation and the church’s role in civil divorce.

You can always tell when an idol is at work, because there are sacrifices.
     Ken Sande, Ruling Elder and author of The Peacemaker.

Last but not least, the Advocates need to know how to tenderly preach the gospel—the pure gospel in all its glorious facets and its comprehensive scope—in small, quiet spoonfuls.  They need to know how to climb down into this deep, dark emotional pit with these beaten women, and help each one find the rungs on the theological ladder—one rung at a time.  When her hands and feet slip off, the Advocates need to know how to guide them back.  They need to know how to help her wash the shame away with the gospel. They need to know how to loan her hope in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in her.  In particular, they need to know how the gospel enables the biblical model of mutual submission in marriage.  They need to know the difference between male headship—personal responsibility to God for the spiritual quality of the marriage—and the horrible curse of patriarchy.  They need to know how Christ gently binds up the broken-hearted, and become His hands.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

The training must be done by a team of Elders assigned to this work by the Session, to ensure both initial and recurring training in all six elements.  The Advocates develop their own policy and procedure to guard against gossip while enabling effective help.  Legal counsel, especially a female attorney familiar with the statutes and the issues involved, should be a regular part of the training, as well as professional counsellors and certified conciliators.

As our first five Advocates completed their initial training and were commissioned before the congregation, they surprised all of us by expanding their ministry scope.  For example, they began serving the wife of a penitent pornography addict.  The Session had properly admonished him to continue his repentance; the Advocates gave her sustained support as she learned to deal with the way this addiction weaponized their marriage relationship and attacked her identity.  In the Advocates the Spirit had unleashed a new redemptive force, working in many ways we had not envisioned when we set out to create their role.

The shame- and fist-beaten woman is not without hope—she has a Redeemer.  The Advocates collaborate with the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ to do what seems to her impossible:

Set fire to the rain.

This post is dedicated to the first five Women’s Advocates–five women of courage, dedicated to serving Christ by serving in His body:
Joy, Anne, Anna, Christiane, and Tanya.

2 thoughts on “The Women’s Advocates Set Fire to the Rain

  1. Oh that every church had such advocates for women. My question is, where do the elders who train them get their training?

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    • For starters, encourage those men who actively pastor the flock, who make disciples–those who crawl down into the pit where broken people live–to seek out training from Peacemaker Ministries (http://peacemaker.net/). They conduct excellent training events in churches around the world.

      Unfortunately, not every one a congregation elects to the office of Elder is gifted and called by God to the spiritual office. Those called and gifted are visibly doing the hard pastoral work, title or no title; they are the spiritual smoke jumpers in your church. These are the ones to encourage to get training from Peacemaker Ministries, and to nominate for the office of Ruling Elder when the time comes. After they are elected, ordained and installed, keep on encouraging them and their wives.

      Second, as women leaders, ask to meet with the Teaching Elder(s) to discuss 2 Timothy 3 and Micah 6:8. Ask them how they differentiate between male headship and patriarchy. Ask them about how they see the Session implementing Chapter 24.6 of the Westminster Confession. Depending on the response you get, consider pointing out the Women’s Advocates model as one possible path for the Elders to pursue. Offer to help the Teaching Elders and the Session develop such a model for your church.

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