”Is he still a pastor?”
"I see no love in him. It is all lies, immorality, vanity, and self-righteousness."
"When he became angry, he couldn't control himself... Once, he just came to me with a remote control, hit me on each side of the face, and then slung me on the head..."
Sister Hannah (pseudonym) was on the other end of the phone, angry about what she had suffered from her ex-husband. Her ex-husband is a pastor at a church in central China. She divorced him a year ago because she could no longer bear being abused by him. Even after a year she lived in his shadow and could not forget the pain he caused her. Even though she claimed that she didn’t care anymore and said that she no longer wanted to cause herself further pain by thinking about him, her heart is still scarred.
"Domestic violence" -- In the last two years, these words can be heard more frequently. But has it only been around for two years? No.
As early as more than a decade ago, a popular Chinese TV series Don't Talk to Strangers depicted significant scenes of domestic violence. Countless viewers remember the show and call it a "childhood shadow".
The impact of domestic violence on an individual is enormous. According to the All-China Women's Federation, up to 30 percent of China's 270 million families have experienced domestic violence. The figure is only a public survey. In a traditional culture where men are privileged over women and dirty laundry is not to be washed in public, many abused women endure in silence.
Sister Hannah was one of them. A year after her divorce from her ex-husband, she said, "People from the church used to come and try to talk me into going back to him. " The church elders and co-workers also said to her ex-husband, "You've been divorced three times. Do you still want to be married? You're a pastor. It's not appropriate to keep divorcing your wives. You ex-wife is very good. You should get her back!"
At first, she thought, since the church people were urging her so sincerely, for the sake of the church, for the sake of everyone, it would be OK to go back.
So although divorced, she went back to her ex-husband and continued to live with him. But she found that the endless concessions and compromises only resulted in being hurt and roughed up over and over again. So she finally made up her mind that no matter how much he begged her and how much others tried to persuade her, she would never go back.
The first time I met Sister Hannah was at a church gathering. "Don't be afraid, I can call my husband to pick us up," she tole me, standing at the gate and looking out into the dark road after the evening meeting. She said her husband was a pastor and treated her extremely well.
A few moments after she had finished talking, a tall, thin figure came up the end of the path. At first sight, it was easy to take a fancy to him, a well-tailored man, a gentleman, a tall man, blessed with the clerical demeanor.
In the days that followed, sister Hannah told a lot about her experience with her husband, like her husband would take her out to a hotel because after the meeting, it's not comfortable to sleep on a bed made on the floor with everybody else. She said that her husband loved her very much and took good care of her. There was a girlish smile and sweetness on her face.
About half a year after our meeting, it was only when I contacted her that I learned Hannah had been abused by her husband and admitted to the hospital. Over the phone, she, again and again, referred to the false layers that he displays to others. She said that the man is not what a pastor should be, and everything he shows is false. She said he behaved well in front of outsiders, but was violent towards her at home. He had a bad temper and flew into a rage if anything went wrong.
She also said that they had stayed in the hotel after the last meeting and that she had been knocked to the floor in the bathroom by him that night and had not been able to get up. The next day, as they headed home on the subway, he kept her bag and phone in his hands to prevent her from running away. She was crying as she followed him back home, and everyone on the subway saw her... It wasn't the first time that he had abused her, and after each time he would apologize to her for not being able to control his temper. Sometimes he even knelt and kowtowed to her, promising never to do it again. But such assurances, like stones dropped into the sea, soon disappear. After the pastor kept repeating his promises over and over again, the sister Hannah finally gave up and decided to divorce anyway.
The divorce process, Hannah says, was not easy, even if there were no major difficulties. The pastor’s first two wives were chased away by his violence, and knowing that she wanted a divorce, he refused. Besides leaving all her papers at home, he threatened to run over and kill her with his car if she divorced him.
After a long, long battle with him, Sister Hannah eventually divorced him, but the marriage left a scar as deep in her heart as a knife wound. After being apart for a year, she is still accusing the pastor of his crimes.
He had a very short temper, and could not help swearing at every occasion. At home, yelling is common, and even more, so is getting your hands dirty. "I thought he was manic. Once when he hit me, he just threw the remote over my head and punched me in the face from side to side. I was sitting on the sofa, trying to protect myself, and I kicked him, and he went around telling people I was hitting him..."
When she wanted to leave, she said, he chained her car tire, grabbed her bag and cell phone, and forced her to stay. During this marriage, she felt extremely hurt. "I can't see love," she kept saying. "It's all lies, promiscuity, vanity, self-righteousness. What is there about him that is a pastor? He does not fear God in this way. He does not fear the wrath of God at all."
"He was never thinking about glorifying God," she said, "He was only thinking about making himself known and collecting money. Whatever he does, he does it for himself." "You have to get out of this marriage," Hannah said to sisters who are still in the midst of domestic violence, and who have been away from it but have not gotten over it. "This kind of marriage, if you don't want it, don't remain in it."
She said: "This kind of man does not want to change. If he did it once, he would do it many times. He said he would change, but in fact, he would never change. ... I've come out of it now, it's not worth hurting myself for someone like that..."
- Translated by Nicolas Cao