Financial Abuse Hidden Within Christianity
Over the last few weeks I’ve had several individuals reach out to me asking for resources to help address financial abuse. Because of the influx of questions on this topic, I thought it was time for me to compose a blog post addressing this issue specifically.
What Is Financial Abuse?
According to The National Network To End Domestic Violence, Financial abuse is defined as:
“... a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in in general, include tactics to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances. Financial abuse along with emotional, physical and sexual abuse, manipulation, intimidation and threats are all intentional tactics used by an abuser aimed at entrapping the partner in the relationship. In some abusive relationships, financial abuse is present throughout the relationship and in other cases financial abuse becomes present when the survivor is attempting to leave or has left the relationship.”
As described above, financial abuse can take on a variety of shapes and forms. Additionally, abusers may use common Christian theology and practices to justify or mask financial exploitation. Though persons of any faith may be vulnerable to financial abuse, this article will be focusing on financially abusive distortions of Christianity.
What could financial abuse look like in a Christian environment?
Using the weight of God to pressure or manipulate church members into tithing or giving.
Manipulating church members to give money above their means, promising that God will bless or repay them.
Exploiting church funds for selfish or secular gain.
Demanding financial payment in exchange for forgiveness or absolving of “sin.”
Restricting or encouraging individuals to forgo educational or employment opportunities for “biblical” reasons, or sabotaging working opportunities.
Restricting or limiting women from working outside of the home in order to become a “biblical” woman, mother, wife, or homemaker.
Using Scripture to restrict adults from opening their own bank account or credit card.
Using Scripture to restrict a wife or adult child from becoming financially independent.
Using Scripture to restrict a wife or adult child from obtaining a driver's license or vehicle.
Using “biblical” gender roles as justification for a husband financially controlling the independent choices of the wife or adult child.
Discouraging a woman from having access to financial information in her marriage under the guise of trusting her husband’s authority.
Giving one’s wife an allowance instead of joint access to funds and budgeting.
Lying or being deceptive about finances, including joint finances, or acquiring debt without the other spouse's permission.
Withholding items for basic needs such as food, clothing, or medical care under the guise of trusting God or enforcing a punishment.
Giving the husband the “final say” in financial decisions instead requiring mutual agreement.
Requiring a person to work (outside of reasonable household contributions) without adequate financial compensation.
Pressuring or requiring a subordinate (child, church employee, lay person, etc.) to give or lend money to a superior.
Abusers often use finances to control their victims. Particularly in patriarchal religious communities, abusive husbands may escape under the radar of detection by appealing to common cultural practices. For instance, it is a valid choice for a woman to decide to be a stay-at-home wife or mother, but this must be her personal decision and free of coercion. Some abusers will force or manipulate their wives (and sometimes daughters) into domestic service, disallowing them from gaining education or income. This makes it very difficult for a person to leave a dangerous relationship. From the outside, this may appear to be a mutual decision and common Christian practice, but on the inside it can be a cover for financial abuse.
There are many other examples, but these are a few that abusers in Christian communities will use to entrap their victims.
If you or someone you know is in a financially abusive relationship or environment, here are three steps you can take:
1. Take it seriously.
Some victims of financial abuse will be led to believe that, because they are not being physically assaulted, the abuse is less serious. Financial abuse can be devastating, and it is often accompanied by other forms or abuse. Action must be taken for the safety of the victim.
2. Connect With a Victim Advocate
Search for a domestic violence response center in the victim’s area and connect with a victim advocate who is understanding of financial abuse. You can search by city and state here. Explain the situation and ask for immediate assistance if food, shelter, medical care, or employment is needed. Additionally, ask to be referred to a professional, licensed counselor and legal advisor who can walk with you through this difficult journey. Ask your advocate about free or sliding scale payments for these professional services.
3. Contact Law Enforcement
If a crime has possibly been committed, or if you or someone else is in danger, contact the police. Your victim advocate should be able to help you with these arrangements.
Healthy relationships include transparency, mutual decisions, allowance for autonomy, and the encouragement of educational and financial flourishing for each partner.