Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Princess, the Domestic Violence Survivor Who Was Abused by Her Husband and then by Her Church

She styles herself a princess. It is the positive self talk she struggles to use to heal herself and propel herself forward to a better life.

Probably it is her way of trying to answer the words she heard from those who should have loved her from birth.

Princess was not only abused by those who actually beat her physically, but also by members of her community and church who judged her and blamed her and sided with the men who abused her.

Perhaps because of this she talks hesitantly about the past and not at all about some events and memories.

Like so many survivors sometimes all she can say is, "I was abused."

The abuse started early.  She was not as a wanted child.  She was reminded of this over and over in her life.

Her mother's family were Wallowa County pioneers who came from the South after the Civil War.  The men in the family treated everyone around them as though they were plantation owners.  Her grandmother was different.  Princess loved her grandmother.  Her grandmother was the kindest person in her family during her childhood.

Once her grandmother told Princess a family secret -- that she likely had "black blood."

This grandmother never tolerated anyone criticizing African Americans.

The unspoken truth is that many white people have "black blood" and don't know it because black ancestry was so disadvantageous for most of American history that any black American who could pass for white, did so.  The other unspoken truth is that many white men who owned black slaves owned them in all ways.

United States president, founding father and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, wrote to friends about his later life at his plantation, Monticello, that he was living like an Old Testament patriarch.  Two hundred years later members of the African American family whose oral history was that they were descended from Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemmings, were proved correct by DNA tests.

For the less churched readers of this blog, Abraham, the Old Testament patriarch and father of both Arab and Jewish peoples, lived with both wife Sarah and her slave, Hagar, and fathered children by both.  The relationship caused great pain to both women.

In other words, slavery promoted a culture of abuse in multiple ways -- not merely the abuse of blacks as humans but also the abuse of women as humans.

Or perhaps in the words of Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop and Chair of the Truth and  Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, "I am human because you are human.  If you are dehumanized, I am dehumanized."

In other words, slavery not only dehumanized blacks; it supported the dehumanization of women as well.

Princess's words about her grandmother echo an unspoken memory of a slave woman ancestor,  a great great great grandmother, perhaps a great great grandmother, who had no choice in the matter of sex with her white master and bore a child or children, some of whom were female and who also had no choice in the matter of sex with the master.  Eventually one or more of these children was light enough to pass for white and did so.  And she or he became Princess's antecedant.

So racism is a form of abuse as is slavery and the mix includes sexual abuse.

Princess's father's ancestry included an Indian woman, but not necessarily of Nez Perce heritage.

One of her father's ancestors was a French Fur trapper.  He took an Indian wife.

Princess remarked, "It was not a romantic relationship.  She was his property."

So the past was not auspicious for Princess and her parents.

Her mother was very intelligent, but her mother's father saw no use to educating a girl past Middle School.  Girls were supposed to cook and clean and stay at home and bear children.  They were not supposed to have intellectual aspirations and meaningful work outside the home.

Princess's mother rebelled against the life she was expected to live, but her rebellions were not conducive to a healthy childhood for Princess.  Her mother often worked as a bar maid and smoked and drank and brought home many of the men she met in the various bars where she worked.

She died in her fifties from a smoking related illness, trying to pry cigarettes from the packs of male visitors who left their smokes in their shirt pockets.

Princess rebelled in her own ways but does not like to talk about the past.

What she can talk about is the one thing that sustained her through a challenging childhood and adulthood -- faith.

Princess's faith has always been an open hearted and open spirited one.  She attended Church faithfully but was not dogmatic in her beliefs.  She is uncomfortable with dogmatic approaches to faith -- instincts  strengthened by her life experiences.

Princess married a time or two or three; she is vague about the details.  And she gave birth to one wonderful daughter and three wonderful sons.  Her eldest son died as one of the younger ones was being born.

She curled up in a ball and wanted to die herself but for the needs of her new baby.

Her depression put a lasting strain on her marriage, and then her husband cracked.

He, too, had come from a challenging family.  He never confronted the abusive relationships in his life and is stilling living and dying from the side effects.

Princess loved her husband.  He was a rancher as her father had been.  He came from Wallowa County pioneer stock as did Princess's mother and father.

Princess loved the ranch life.  She loved horses and cows and the range and the mountains and the canyons and lakes and valleys of Wallowa County.

She found a connection to God, the father of all being, in nature, in the ranch, in the animals….

Wallowa County, the home Princess loves…

But her distress over her son's death fed into her husband's unresolved issues from his own childhood.  He had grown up with abuse and over time it became his way of handling conflict with Princess.

Over time, particularly in the last year or two of their marriage, the problems grew worse.

One day after a decade or so of marriage he beat her and shot a gun at her but did not hit her.

She knew it was only a matter of time before he would aim a gun at her and hit his target.

She went to live in the women's shelter.

Her husband lost his right to see his children, but she went to court to restore those rights.

Through her own troubled childhood, she understood that children have to right to have a relationship with even a troubled parent if the child is not the primary recipient of sexual and physical violence.  She did not confuse what was good for her with what was good for her sons.

But other Christians were not as open hearted and open minded as Princess.

As they were divorcing, Princess's husband who had never been religious before, joined a church.

The people of that Church condemned Princess for breaking marriage vows.  After all, had Jesus not prohibited divorce, saying the Moses had only allowed it for the hard heartedness of humans?

But looking at the cultural and historical context of the Bible is very helpful to understanding what Jesus meant.

In the time of Jesus, men could divorce women very easily, but it was difficult for women to obtain divorces.

Former Catholic Bishop from Australia, Goeffrey Robinson, wrote about the issue.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  It accepted divorce as a fact of life and imposed two requirements: the husband had to write out a bill of divorce and give it to his wife before two witnesses, and he could never marry her again once she had married another man.  The written bill of divorce was a protection for the wife, since it proved that she was free to marry and saved her from charges of adultery, while the prohibition against marrying her again deterred spur-of-the-moment divorces.  There were no courts or other persons involved in the divorce, other than the two witnesses.  With the handing over of the bill of divorce, all formalities were completed and the divorce was final.  The husband alone had the right to divorce.  The wife had no appeal and, indeed, no rights in the matter at all, and the only way in which she herself could secure a divorce was by putting pressure on her husband to divorce her. 

So divorce in the time of Jesus was supremely unfair to women.  Jesus was always a great advocate for better treatment for both women and children.

In Matthew 19:14, the New International Version of the Bible Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Then there is the story of the women with the issue of blood from Luke 8:43-48:

43 And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, 44 Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.  45 And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?  46 And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.  47 And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.  48 And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.

In ancient Israel as in many other cultures, women were considered unclean if they had their menses.  It was obvious that this was also true if you had an illness that caused bleeding as was likely the case with the woman in this Bible passage.  The woman was afraid to approach Jesus as she knew she was "unclean" by the standards of her society, but Jesus was not concerned with being made unclean by begin touched by a woman during her menses.

Jesus says in Matthew 23:25 to 27 that what makes you unclean is your behavior and your thinking.  Rigid adherence to rituals and rules does not make you "clean."

25"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26"You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.…

Christians forget the details of what Jesus said and often adhere to the simplest of meanings.

Jesus would not have been worried by Princess being made unclean by divorcing her husband.  He would have been much more concerned with supporting Princess in the process of ending abuse in her life and healing and changing herself.

Princess was like the woman with the issue of blood.  She never lost her faith in Jesus, but members of this fundamentalist Christian Church her husband joined saw her as unclean.

Given her faith, Princess fought back the only way she knew -- by turning to her faith and by reading the Bible.  She scoured the Bible for verses to support her position.

Maybe St. Paul did say that women were supposed to be subject to their husbands, but he also said as recorded in Ephesians 5:25 to 27 that men were to treat women as Jesus treated the people of the church -- lovingly.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.…

Princess knew the Bible well.  She knew that If her husband subjected her to verbal and physical violence, he had already broken their marriage vows as certainly as if he had committed adultery.  He broke up their marriage, not her.

In trying to sort out her feelings, Princess wrote two books:

 The Toad and the Princess   (Amazon link)


Until Death Do Us Part

The Toad and the Princess is a fable version of what it is like to be abused and how to heal yourself.   Princess wrote it for children, but it also turns out to be good for adults.  Sometimes the actual story of abuse or domestic violence is too personal to process.  By telling the story as a fable, Princess made the elemental parts of the experience easier to understand.

You can buy The Toad and the Princess at  The link is provided above.  You can also go the Amazon website and search for The Toad and the Princess by Rhonda Trullinger.

Until Death Do Us Part refers the reader to the Bible passages that inspired Princess (ie. Ephesians, 5:25 to 27), shares Princess's insights and interpretations of these passages and offers space for the reader to do the same.

Maybe you are like Princess.  You are an abuse survivor whose been abused both by the abuser but also by members of the community who support the abuser but not the abused.  Or maybe you are a member of the community who has supported the abuser.

Perhaps the responsibility to end abuse depends on all of us.  At the very least we can ask questions and be open hearted and open minded before we come to conclusions about accusations of abuse and domestic violence.

One more thought:  If beating or emotionally or sexually abusing your wife breaks the sacrament of marriage, does not also the abuse of children break the sacrament of the priesthood?

If you want to buy Until Death Do Us Part, please contact Rhonda Trullinger at

© 2014 Virginia Pickles Jones


DIVORCE AND THE GREAT TRADITION: Discerning "the signs of the times" by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, April 23, 2014.

1 comment:

  1. That is a really sad story, yet very realistic at the same time. It's really sad to see people like Princess struggling to fit into a society that judges them because of what happened to them. What's even worse is no one believes them. What made me angry about this is how the community has received her, which I think is really abhorrent. It’s a good thing that she found solace through her faith. Thanks for sharing this! :)

    Richard Della Fera @ RDF Attorney