Domestic Violence In the Church: Her Story with Paula Silva

Domestic violence in the church? How can that be! Fortunately for the rest of us, Paula Silva knows exactly how domestic violence can sneak up on believing wives. She’s educated churches about domestic violence for over twenty-five years.

Founder of Focus Ministries, Paula is a nationally known expert on the topic of domestic violence. I was privileged to interview her through the connection of a dear friend. (Thank you, sweet friend!) 

Domestic Violence in the Church

Eventually, Paula began to realize something was terribly wrong in her marriage. In desperation, she proposed a separation to her husband within their own home to give them a chance to rethink their situation. (For more on how to be your family’s champion, click here.)

“He just told me that he would kill me and kill himself,” she says.

Without her knowledge, her husband went to their pastor. She doesn’t know what exactly her husband told their pastor. She was called into the pastor’s office. He asked what was going on. 

“I want you to realize after twenty-six years of marriage, I had never told anybody what was going on,” Paula says. In fact, she reports it’s common for women to suffer alone. Certainly, if they share anything, it’s only a tiny portion.

“I culminated with how my husband threatened to kill me and kill himself,” says Paula. Their pastor leaned in and said something chilling.

“Well, did he hold a gun to your head?” Then the pastor proceeded to lecture her about “my purposeful sin of divorce.” Fortunately, Paula listened to a different voice.

“I heard God say to me, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Paula gently shares universal truth as she tells her story and the way God cared for her through it all in our interview. Or find tools for great conversations to share at church or home here.

Church Can Be a Safe Place

I hesitate to share this story because I am blessed to know so many tender pastors who would never respond this way. But Paula’s story reminds me that all Christians are accountable before God for how we respond in those tender moments with our sisters and brothers in Christ. (If you are seeking counseling or pastoral care, may I recommend two of my favorite places to start? Find Alethia Counseling here or Good Samaritan here.)

Because we all know church can and should be a safe place, I asked Paula tons of questions about how this could happen to a strong Christian.

How Could This Happen to a Believer?

She was raised in a Christian home by parents who were very involved in church. (For more tools to gently bring up tough topics at church, click here.) She first met her future husband in their youth group at church. They dated off and on for many years.

“My husband was very outgoing person who could turn on the charm,” she reports, adding, “I felt privileged to be chosen to be his wife. That’s a key part.”

However, they weren’t married long before certain abusive traits—traits that he had gotten from his father—began to surface.

“A week after we were married I asked him to take out the garbage. He proceeded to go into a rage,” she says. “He yelled at me that I shouldn’t ask him to do such a thing. I was shocked.”

She began to question her own reality. 

“What had I done to set him off? Maybe he was just having a bad day. Maybe I asked incorrectly. It was the beginning of not trusting my own perception.” 

All the while, people at church held him in high regard. The couple ministered in their church to the youth and college students. He even taught at the local college. From all appearances, it was a perfect marriage. 

“But behind closed doors I was regularly verbally assaulted with not being a godly wife,” she explains, “I was accused of challenging his authority in the home.” He knew just which Bible verses to quote to trigger the reactions he wanted from her. (For more about spiritual manipulation and abuse, I suggest Athena Dean Holtz’s book, Full Circle: Coming Home to the Faithfulness of God.)

Then There Were Children

“When three children came along, things turned from bad to worse,” she says, adding he resented her devotion to their children. “Not only was the attention taken from him, but I wasn’t out there making money.”

He began each day with a checklist for Paula, often raging at her if she failed to complete it. He also followed his children around the house rehashing their perceived failures. Soon, the family began to dread the moment when dad arrived home after work. (For local, trustworthy help, find the East Texas Crisis Center here.)

“The children suffered verbal and emotional abuse,” she reports. Still, for a long time she didn’t realize they were living in an abusive situation.

What We Need to Know

“The term domestic violence never entered my brain because domestic violence to me was only physical abuse,” she explains. “Because I wasn’t being hit, if you told me I was being abused, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Based on Paula’s own experience she offers some important truths for us who love the Church:

  • Just because someone professes to be a Christian and attends your church, doesn’t mean they are.
  • The marriage ended because of abuse, but that doesn’t mean your life is over and God will never use you for His glory.
  • Domestic violence is more than just physical abuse.
  • Domestic violence is a cancer, permeating the Christian community. Churches are unprepared in handling domestic violence.
  • God can take the broken pieces of our lives and transform them into something beautiful, much like a stain glass window.
  • There is hope and healing when we keep our focus on the Lord.
  • Marriage has become an idol over the safety of a victim.
  • The church is not always a safe place, but it should be.

Maybe you could take a minute and tape Paula’s list in your Bible, in case you want to glance at it in church next Sunday. Or in case someone you know needs it.

Christians don’t like to admit there’s a problem within the church called domestic violence. Yet, when we speak up, we join Paula in making a big dent in the power of the enemy.

Victory and Inspiration

Do you know someone who may feel isolated in the darkness of domestic violence? We know the enemy does not want the sun to shine on reality.

Like so many of our guests, Paula offers real solutions. I feel so honored someone with Paula’s reputation and credentials would come on Fireside Talk Radio. So, I kidded her about Camp Krafve “hitting the big league.” 

“The big league is God,” replied Paula, without missing a beat. Dear reading and listening friends, only God could arrange for us to bring you this beautiful story of victory and inspiration. (For our free weekly on tender topics, click here.) For any sisters out there who might be suffering, Paula says turn to the psalms. 

“I have found that women who are hurting, if they start reading the Psalms, God picks a Psalm for them.”

One of Paula’s favorites is Psalm 34:17-23, so we’ll close today’s blog with it and our deep love for you!

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

He guards all his bones;
Not one of them is broken.”

Up Next

Next week, Paula shares what we can do to make the church a safe place for those suffering with domestic violence. We’re calling that episode, Domestic Violence: Anchoring Sisters. Don’t miss her wisdom!

Then, just in time for Father’s Day, we interview the amazing Stan Ward. You will love what he says about beating burn out. How do we zero in on what really counts in life? Don’t miss our interview with this down-to-earth, geeky Ph.D. smart father and friend!

Plus, Anna shows up soon for more fun (often funny) family moments!

May we pray together?

Dear good Father, we cry out and You hear. You deliver us out of all our troubles. You are near to those who have a broken heart. We praise and thank You, O Lord! You save us and teach us to come to You with a contrite spirit. We praise You because You are trustworthy. Many are our afflictions, but You deliver us out of them all. You guard all our bones; not one of them is broken. So we pray for this dear one now. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

We LOVE to hear from YOU!

How has a sister in Christ anchored your heart? What do you wish your church would do to help you? Which topics should we talk about on Fireside Talk Radio?

Coming Soon!

I want my listening and reading friends to be among the first to know this is happening! Watch here for more details!


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