Janay Rice In Your Pews: Churches & Domestic Violence

chelseaThis guest post is by my friend, Chelsie Sargent. Chelsie is a licensed professional counselor in Houston, TX. She worked at a non-profit counseling agency for 4 years before opening her own private practice in April 2011. Chelsie loves her husband Steve and prefers reading to movies, running to yoga, and slow dining experiences to fast food joints. Chelsie and Steve have one daughter – two and a half year old Cora June.

You can learn more about Chelsie and her work at www.chelsiesargentcounseling.com


The following scenario happens in my office several times a year: 

A client (usually female, but not always) sits down on my couch (with hands wringing and nervously chattering on about the framed art hanging on my office walls or why I chose this particular shade of green to paint those walls). After a few pleasantries and exchanging confidentiality limits, I shift the conversation to the matters at hand and I ask, “So, why are you here today?” A story is shared, bits and broken pieces of the whole coming out at varying speeds. In this particular scenario, the dialogue usually begins this way:

Client: I never thought I would be in a situation where I would need to seek outside help.

Me: What do you mean by ‘outside help’?
Client: You know, like I never thought I would need to talk to a counselor about my marriage.
Me: How come?
Client: Because I had a good and happy marriage at one time. My husband loves me and for the most part takes very good care of me and the kids. You must understand, my husband is not like this all the time. He only gets like this when he is overworked, or tired, or stressed with finances, or…!
Me: Gets like what?
Client: Well, you know, he sometimes yells at me if I forget to turn off the sprinklers in the backyard. Or that one time he hit me after I told him his yelling hurt my feelings. Or when he threatened to hurt me or himself if I did not do X, Y, or Z better.
Me: How long has this abusive behavior been going on in your marriage?
(Long silence…)
Client: I would like to say this started just recently, but I think there were red flags while we were dating. I had no idea it would lead to all this.Red flags. Warnings. Heads up.

When I refer to a “red flag” I am referencing anything in the relationship that seems off base, or something that could be labeled as a small issue (emotional manipulation, name calling, yelling, pushing) but later turns into full-blown abuse.

For example – many women I’ve talked with who have been in a longterm abusive relationship say that at the start of dating, their partner was quite directive in what she wore, who she talked to and hung out with, or how she spent her hours when apart from each other. These red flags may have looked nonthreatening, or even like chivalrous protectiveness, but would, over time, morph into blatant control. She is silenced by him, she is shamed by him, because he has taken away her voice and crushed her spirit.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline states that, on average, it takes a woman seven times of leaving an abusive relationship and then coming back to it before she finally leaves the relationship for good. Why would an abused woman stay in such a situation? Why does it take someone so long to believe they are worth far more than what’s being impelled upon them, that they are precious and lovable, that they do not deserve to live in fear and isolation?

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Is Your Church Donald Sterling’s Instagram Dream?

Does your church directory look like Donald Sterling’s Dream Instagram?

Go ahead. Take a minute. Flip through it. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that 90% of churches are congregations made up of 95% of one, single race. Big or small, rich or poor, people tend to gravitate to people who look like, sound like, and act just like they do. It isn’t the OJ Trial or the murder of Trayvon Martin or even the election of a half-black President; the strongest indicator of race relations in America is the church. Well, it’s the church, plus backyard barbeques or girlfriends’ weekends and guys’ poker nights – the strongest indicator of racial relations is who we are with when we get to choose who to be with. When we get to pick who to spend our time with, we go all Donald Sterling, “let’s not hang out at the game together.”

Christians have known for a long time that Sunday morning at 10:00am is the most segregated hour of the week, but curiously, we do, or care, little about it.  In part, we don’t know what to do about race. There is a soothing lie, which we either collectively believe or have fallen under the mass delusion of. That lie? Culture and cultural differences are greater forces than the gospel.

When pressed to justify single race churches, the last standing line of defense is culture – that black-culture, white-culture, Latino-culture, or whatever are just sooooooooo different; worship styles and preaching styles are so varied; lifestyle issues are so contrasting that we cannot worship together regularly. And I rise to tell you that excuse is crap!

Forgive the inelegance of my language, but if you’re resting the head of your mostly segregated church on the illusion-producing pillow of “cultural differences” you are dangerously close to becoming a kind of Jim Jones Kool-Aid sipper accepting what you’re told without the worry of performing your own investigation type person.

Culture and cultural difference are a fig leaf covering our sinfully poor understanding of the gospel. Here’s why:

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Making Room For You In Your Life

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.” - Thomas A. Edison

The malady infecting my generation is busyness. Wishing and hoping, we reach out to life believing busyness equals importance. We deny it. But, when we pull back the façade and our prententiousness, we know our operational truth: When we’re busy we feel worthy.

Over the past few years, I’ve been busy. Busy speaking and traveling, writing for The Palmer Perspective and other outlets, like Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed and Sojourners; busy ghost-writing projects which are important to me; busy working on an exciting and super-secret project which I pray pans out; busy with a website and on-line course which failed because I was too busy; and busy, busy, busy trying to love and care for my wife, Rochelle and our two daughters. Oh wait! I’ve also been busy trying my best to love and serve a local church.

Each arena connects me with encouraging people who are grateful for my efforts. While their words buoy my spirit, those same words deceive my sense of worth, tricking me into doing more and staying busier than I ought. I’m beginning to worry that my busyness is seeming not doing.

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Speaking of Michael Brown

My friend, a fellow preacher, Jeff, took his wife bowling a few years back. In the lane next to them a couple drank, bowled, and drank some more. Jeff, never having met a stranger, struck up a conversation. As tends to happen in conversation, the woman asked, “What do you do for a living?” Jeff replied, “I’m a preacher.” Throwing her head back, swishing another Coors down her gullet, she looked back, and said, “I hope you’re a good preacher.”
Jeff smiled.

“I go to church,” she added. “I like my preacher because he talks about real s***!”

If I were to criticize my professional guild, I would say this: Sometimes, we lack the will, the clarity, or the courage, to talk about things that matter.

In Search of Michael Brown

Many Christians went to church Sunday and didn’t hear the name Michael Brown. It came as a welcomed event for some. Brown’s name is all over the news as well as the cable and radio outlets pretending to be news. I’m sure there are many of us who were more than happy to sing rousing choruses of How Great Is Our God and Oceans, without the bother of being swept up in the deluge of news regarding a slain, unarmed black kid.

At the same time, there were sparse mentions of Israel and Hamas, ISIS, Ebola, and other devastating revelations pooling around the world. And that’s sad. It’s sad because it reveals (once again) the anemic ability of Christian churches to talk about things that matter.

Why The Problem Exist (In Part)

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Tell Me What A ‘Disciple’ Is…Please!

“We need to make disciples!”

If you want loud applause from an audience of Christian leaders, make sure you mention how important it is to make disciples. The applause come because of our present-day fascination with all things “missional” and “disciple-making.” It’s kinda cool.

Last year, I spent two days listening to and learning from a few great thinkers share about “making disciples.” The opening speaker wanted to make one thing clear: The church is in trouble. According to some poll, some Christians didn’t believe what he thought they ought to believe about baptism or hell or atonement theory. Even more Christians confessed to premarital sex and Christian divorce rates were inching up. At the same time, he said, we should all be ashamed of not fully embracing the theology of adoption and adopt little black kids from Africa. If I didn’t know before, I knew now: We pastors aren’t “making disciples” (or at least that guys version of one). I wanted to tell him, I’ve already got my little black kids. Two of them.

The conference only got worse. Over two days, speakers reinforced how we weren’t “doing enough,” or “teaching the gospel enough,” or “serving the community enough.” There were a lot of “enoughs.”

We also heard about what a waste of time it was to “preach sermons” and how “people aren’t interested in your ivory tower theology.” All of this, of course, was done in the service of getting us pastors to “make disciples.” I discovered we weren’t doing enough, because I wrote it all down in my “you suck at ministry” notebook they placed in our goody bags.

But I noticed a huge gap in my notes. No one ever bothered to explain what a disciple was, what a disciple looked like, or how — as a Christian leader — I’d know when I had one.

The speakers told stories, though. Stories about churches helping the homeless. Tales of young, urban hipsters serving little old, blue-haired ladies and so on. We worshiped. We listened. We left not knowing what a disciple was.

I know it sounds kind of silly, but if we’re going spend this much time talking, writing, and aiming at “discipleship,” shouldn’t we have some idea when we’ve hit the target? If you’re going to guilt me into believing I’ve failed to make disciples or the American church has let down the Kingdom, shouldn’t you make a contrast between what we have and what should have?

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