Recently I had a refresher course in abuser tactics. Not in a classroom, but in real life. I need these reminders to help me continue to learn how to put into practice what I have learned about abuse. Necessary, because we all so easily revert to our old errors we used to be bound by when we were still “in the fog.” In this case my reminder was that I must not yield to accusations or to suggestions by the cowardly. We all have to learn to dig in our heels, stand firm, and say “no, I am right and you are wrong.” Many times distortions of our Christian faith that we have been confused by tell us that such an attitude evidences a lack of humility, that surely we are all sinners, that we need to look at ourselves carefully, that we need to acknowledge our own sin…blah, blah, blah. Yes, these things can be true, but they can also be perversions of Scripture that the wicked use against us. In dealing with the wicked, as someone has recently said, we must be shrewd. We must be wise as serpents. “No, I am right and you are wrong and I am not going to listen to you.”
In this case, myself and our elders and really our entire church membership confronted evil that has crept into the association of churches that we used to be members of. It’s the same old story you all would recognize. Power and control seekers bullying and lording it over others. They will not listen to anyone. They will not admit any wrong doing. They are never wrong. YOU are the problem. And furthermore, the very idea that YOU would dare act in such an un-Christian manner by saying such things to them…well, you should be ashamed of yourself! Sound familiar? I bet it does.
In this case, we determined that we were going to openly air our decision to resign as members of this association. We wanted the entire membership to know what our reasons were for resigning, rather than just having the Controllers shove our resignation letter in some file where no one would see. Oh, you should have heard the howlings, the caustic remarks of the power brokers, the accusations fired back at us. You would recognize it all as what we call “abuserese.”
Now, something interesting happened. Though our online exchange through “reply all” was witnessed then by most every member of the association, no one stepped forward in that thread to stand with us. What did happen, and we are thankful in part for some of this, is that numbers of pastors and churches contacted us privately and thanked us profusely, telling us that they shared our observations completely. What was interesting however is that they would add at the close of their letter…”please don’t tell anyone we said these things to you.” A spirit of fear reigns in that association. Why? Fear of what? Martin Luther could have been burned at the stake when he said “here I stand.” But what’s to fear here? That one of these “eminent pillars” of the association, these Diotrephes who have loved and enjoyed being “first” might rail against you? Christ has not called us to be invertebrates, brothers and sisters! Show some backbone!
But to our main point. In one of the replies from an ally of the power brokers, we saw a tactic that surely is very commonly used by abusers. I suspect you all have seen it in action. There may be a technical name for it, but I will just call it “reflective blaming,” and this is how it works. We confronted these bullies and told them that their abusive spirit is what we see and reject. We listed examples of this ungodly spirit. We knew they wouldn’t listen, but no matter. Abusers need to be confronted. They should have been called out a long, long time ago but their tactics were kept secret, that secrecy aided by the wrong-headed notion that “Christians must never speak negatively of a brother.”
Now, what do we mean by “reflective blaming.” This ally of the wicked told us, “Here is the irony. The very same ungodly spirit that you are saying we are guilty of is what you yourselves are guilty of.” See what he is saying? “Well, you say that we are abusers, but you are abusing us by saying so.” It’s like addressing a mirror that has the capability of reflecting everything you say back at and upon you. We even see this in children. “Well you do it too!” And of course the goal of the abuser in using this tactic is to remove at least 50% of the blame from himself and put it back on you.
When this reflective blaming hits you, how do you respond? If we aren’t careful, we will let it do its intended damage by accepting this blame. Hey, that’s the humble Christian thing to do, right? No! As soon as we catch ourselves starting to think and feel that, “whoa. I’m guilty. I have sinned by confronting my abuser. I should have been more kind and humble and….” – STOP!! No, I am not guilty of the same thing that the abuser is doing. I reject that charge. We must look the abuser in the eye and say “I reject everything you are saying. Don’t try to remove guilt from yourself by deflecting it to me. I am not guilty of abuse. You are.”
Then listen to the wicked howl some more. “No one has EVER spoken to me this way!” No, they probably haven’t and that is a huge part of the problem.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13-17)
Let me propose to you that the Apostle James is hitting the nail smack on the head here as we consider what he says and apply it to how we see abusers and abuse victims being handled or “mis-handled” in the church. What do we see very widely and even typically in the reports we receive about how local pastors and churches respond to the evil of abuse in the pews? I say that James describes it here: “disorder and every vile practice.” Right? Witness after witness has testified to all of us that this was their experience when they called on the church to help defend them against their abuser. Now, what does James tell us is at the root of this “disorder and every vile practice”? What is the evil root that is producing this bad fruit of demeaning, disregarding, minimizing victims while enabling and allying with the evil abuser? James says it: “…bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, jealousy, SELFISH AMBITION (he repeats that one).” And the source of this evil root? Earthly, unspiritual, demonic “wisdom.” Scary, huh?
Think about it. What does that say about so many local churches and “ministries” claiming to be serving Christ? If you want to know the real nature and spirit of someone or something that professes to be “Christian,” consider how they handle abusers, abuse victims, and evil that creeps in among them. In contrast, James says that where God’s Spirit truly is leading and imparting God’s true wisdom, the result will be, “purity of doctrine, peace, gentleness, rationality, mercy overflowing, good fruits, IMPARTIALITY (of judgment) and sincerity.” And if you want to know if this is the spirit of a place, once more I suggest that you find out how they respond to and deal with evil that comes along looking to creep in and deceive and make people captives.
Abuse in churches is widespread because abusers in churches are widespread. They are tolerated and even exalted (which is what they are after) while gross injustice is dealt to their victims. James is telling us plainly here that the problem is that earthly, unspiritual, and demonic “wisdom” is what energizes and directs such a place. And a church like that opened the door wide to that demon when they became arrogant, self-exalting, and selfishly ambitious. They quenched the Holy Spirit, He departed, and the evil one sent a legion of his spirits to move in.
A gem from our GEMS page:
To be believed is the most precious gift when you have been abused. Freedom from hell on earth follows. It’s why many of us are out and even alive today. [Deborah]
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)
This is a difficult verse to understand. I am not sure that I do. At first glance it seems to speak of the enemies of the kingdom of heaven violently opposing Christ’s people. And yet in the context, it seems that Christ is speaking of His people: John the Baptist and the prophets and Elijah. That in some way, Christ is speaking of the zeal and earnestness by which we must press into His kingdom as opposed to being lethargic and careless like the five foolish virgins (Matthew 25). Some of you can probably add some insight and help me out. But here is why this verse came to my mind recently. Christ’s work, Christ’s business, following Christ and taking up our cross in this present life, requires zeal and watchfulness and clear-sightedness. You might call this zeal, violence. Violence of action. I don’t mean that we should pick up guns and do Jihad. No way. But what I mean is that when we are faced with evil, when the enemy is prowling about and infiltrating and deceiving and seeking whom he may devour, it is time for action. For zealous, immediate, definitive, action. That is what I mean by violence of action. I got the term from reading about the military and warfare. More than once the good guys, facing overwhelming odds against them in battle, emerged victorious because they went on the offensive violently. I haven’t seen the recent World War II movie, Fury, But I suspect that there would be quite a few examples in it that illustrate what I am talking about. Violence of action is definitive, offensive, courageous action in the face of evil. A kind of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” initiative in the face of the enemy. I maintain that the Bible record shows us that the Lord whom we serve calls us to this violence of action. A holy, courageous initiative to strike evil when the enemy of Christ’s kingdom comes our way. That initiative may take many forms, like Daniel of old publicly and fearlessly continuing to pray right on as he always had, no matter the threat of the lions’ den. And I would also maintain that this same violence of action is seen in the Lord Jesus on more than one occasion. He goes for it. He drives the wicked out of the temple. He confronts the Pharisees head on. He goes up to Jerusalem no matter what. Now, here is my point. I believe that this is what the Lord is calling us all to do in regard to this business of abuse hiding disguised in our churches. This matter of abusers who sneak in among us and work their way into influential positions and threaten to undo anyone who might oppose or expose them. Here is their victim coming to us and asking for help. What are we to do? Let me recommend to you what violence of action might look like in such a situation:
- We believe the victim and validate her
- We provide her with materials and other resources so that she can better understand abuse and get out of that confusing fog abuse casts
- We offer her protection, housing, finances, assistance in finding an attorney, and so on (working with her closely of course regarding how much she wants her abuser to know about her actions and when he should know)
- We confront the abuser, especially if he is a member of our church. We suspend him from the church and we let his sin be known to the congregation
- We stand firmly in the face of any threats the abuser makes against us or his victim
I am not proposing an absolutely fixed set of steps here for every abuse situation. But what I am proposing is that we take definitive, initiating ACTION, so that relief is swift in coming to the victim and consequences to the abuser. Just think about it. Think of your story. Think of all the scores and scores of stories abuse victims have told us over the years, including how their churches enabled the abuser and increased the victim’s suffering. What is a common denominator. Time. Long, long, drawn out processes and suffering. Often years of couple’s counseling. Years of fruitless waiting for the abuser to “repent.” But what if…just what if…the common practice in the Christian church was radically altered? What if action to help abuse victims and hold abusers accountable suddenly became swift, definitive, and certain? What if, through us as His instruments, Jesus took a whip and drove the evil one out of His church? What would happen? I can tell you:
- We would bring glory to the name of Christ instead of the dishonor that is so common now
- We would see victims and their children growing in their love for Christ, for His people, for His church…instead of being alienated from us
- We would see the power of Christ coming against the wicked
- We would see justice
- And I suspect we would see fewer and fewer abusers choosing the church as a favorite place to work their evil in disguise
Evil flees in the face of true righteousness. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Light always wins over darkness.
* * *
For further reading: Holy Violence, sermon No. 252 by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from which comes this quote:
Another reason why every man who would be safe must be in earnest, and be violent, is this, there are so many adversaries to oppose us, that if we are not violent we shall never be able to overcome them. . . . do you still condemn this man, and say that he is an enthusiast and a fanatic? Then God himself comes forth to vindicate his despised servant. Know that this is the sign, the mark of distinction between the true child of God and the bastard-professor. The men who are not God’s children are a careless, stumbling, coldhearted race. But the men that are God’s in sincerity and truth, are burning as well as shining lights. They are as brilliant constellations in the firmament of heaven, burning stars of God. Of all things in the world, God hates most the man that is neither hot nor cold.
Update: a reader has kindly let us know that the Spurgeon’s sermon is also avaliable on Sermon Audio:
Audio version of Holy Violence sermon by Spurgeon.
With your manual (Christian Marriage Books by “The Experts” which explain to you what God’s Word says and means) in hand, you slide into the seat. Smooth leather, strong tires, clean, a few nicks and scratches but overall, a pretty great car and the prospect of driving it for years to come is an exciting one. You have an idea of what to expect; you’ve seen a few of these around you your whole life, some better than others, but most of the time, with the manual’s help, they work.
So, ch. 2: windshield wipers. Push button A. You push button A and the windshield wipers turn on. Cool! Push it again, they turn off. Push it again, they turn on. You notice a slight squeak.
You: “Hey, car, there is a slight squeak on the downside.”
Car: “What does the manual say?”
You: “It says there are a couple of things I can do and a couple of things you can do. I can put earplugs in if it bothers me. Or I can push the button a bit softer. It says you can stop squeegeeing before you get to the squeaky part or shave off a bit of the wiper blade.”
Car: “Ok, how’s that?”
You: “Wait, let me take my earplugs out. Yeah, that’s a lot better. Thanks!”
Car: “You’re my favorite passenger. No problem.”
Some problems are bigger than a squeaky wiper blade. Some aren’t worth discussing by either of you, by mutual consent, just a part of the imperfections of being human. Sometimes you are the one doing the “two things” and it works fine. Sometimes the car does and it works out ok. Problem solved. Sometimes you need an outside opinion because the manual doesn’t seem clear. Maybe the mechanic will tell you, “Hey, you know on these models, if you just push the button nearer the top part, it will work better. People come in all the time for this and it seems to work.” So you don’t just absently push the button now. You take the time to push it at the right angle, which takes some patience and can be quite inconvenient, but lo and behold, the wiper turns on and no squeak. Problem solved.
This scenario plays out over and over, several times a week, maybe several times a day, different buttons, different problems, different solutions and you keep moving on down the road, year after year.
In a relationship with an abusive person, the “problem-solving” is very different.
With your manual (Christian Marriage Books by “The Experts” which explain to you what God’s Word says and means) in hand, you slide into the seat. Smooth leather, strong tires, clean, a few nicks and scratches but overall, a pretty great car and the prospect of driving it for years to come is an exciting one. You have an idea of what to expect; you’ve seen a few of these around you your whole life, some better than others, but most of the time, they work.
So, ch. 2: windshield wipers. Push button A. You push button A and the radio comes on. You recheck the manual, push button A and the radio comes on. Wow. That’s odd. It says right here that if I push button A, the windshield wiper should come on.
You: “Hey, car, I’m pushing button A for the windshield wipers but the radio comes on instead.”
Car: “So, what are you doing wrong?”
You: “I’m not sure. I’m doing what the manual says to do but the radio comes on.”
Car: “Well, its obviously something you are doing wrong. Try it again.”
You: “I HAVE been trying it again. It’s simply not doing what the manual says will get the result I am looking for.”
Car: “What do you want ME to do about it? I am working hard to get us down the road and all you can do is criticize me? Do something different.”
So, you try pushing the button softer. Radio.
Car: “That’s not right. Try harder.”
So, you try pushing the button with your pinky finger. Radio.
Car: “No, no, no! Why can’t you figure this out? Do I have to do everything?!”
You see that the car is getting more and more upset and it must be YOUR FAULT BECAUSE THE CAR SAYS IT’S YOUR FAULT so you keep trying. You are so confused because the manual clearly says if you push button A, the wiper blades will come on but the radio keeps coming on instead.
So, you try pushing button A v-e-r-r-y patiently. Radio.
Car: “Oh, my gosh, its not that difficult. Just push the button like it says!”
Now, you’re clearly afraid to push the button at all. Confused and afraid. But, you made a promise, so you keep trying.
Push the button and pray. Radio. Push the button and tilt my head. Radio. Push the button and sing a song. Radio.
Car: “Get it right! Get with the program! You are not doing it right!!!”
You: “I’m doing the best I can.”
Car: “You don’t need to be pushing that button anyway. That doesn’t need to be done.”
You: “But I need the wiper blades because its raining. That’s dangerous.”
Car: “I said you don’t need to push that button!”
But you DO need the wiper blades to work. So what do you do? Then you begin to question your own reality. Perhaps the manual DOESN’T say “Push button A and the wiper blades come on. Perhaps I am misreading it. (Or) Perhaps it is selfish to want the wiper blades to come on. I should just be happy with pushing button A and getting the radio. Yes, that will solve the problem.
So button A, which is supposed to move the wiper blades according to the manual, now, in the topsy-turvy world of abuse, becomes the radio button. So now you know how to make the radio come on. You better keep that in mind. But it IS still raining and you DO need those wiper blades to come on.
Let’s see. Chapter 4: Lights. Push button B and the lights will come on. So you push button B and the horn starts to honk. This creates a loud, scary noise that is drawing attention. You feel dumb. You are following the directions but the car is not responding in the way the manual says it will.
Car: “What are you DOING? Turn that thing off! Do you want the neighbors to hear?! What is wrong with you?!”
You are flustered and accidentally push button A, so now the radio is blasting and the horn is honking but no lights or wipers, which is what you need and what is supposed to be happening. But it’s all your fault. You MUST be doing something wrong because the car says you are. You think you might need some outside help.
Person Clueless About Abuse: “So, did you read the manual?”
You: “Yes, it says to push button B and the lights will come on, but when I do, the horn starts to honk. I have tried everything. I am so confused. I want the car to be happy. I don’t want the car to be angry. What can I do?”
PCAA: “Are you pushing it with the right attitude?”
You: “Ummm, I THINK so. I am just trying to solve the problem.”
PCAA: “Well, it seems like you are blaming the car. You keep pointing to the car. You can’t change the car. You can only change you.”
You: “So, what do you suggest?”
PCAA: “To humble yourself. Take your share of the blame. Ask the car’s forgiveness for being so judgmental. Be patient, like Jesus was patient. And, you might want to wear something a bit more…exciting perhaps? That should get the results you want. Happy car!”
You: “So, if I do all those things you just mentioned, the lights will come on when I push button B? Ok, I’ll do whatever I need to do.”
Do all the suggested actions. Push button B. The horn honks.
Now you are getting frustrated. A small idea begins to pop into your head. “Maybe the wiring is not correct. “Hey, PCAA, maybe the wiring isn’t right.” And you feel inside yourself that this, at last, could be the answer. That no matter HOW you push the button, the horn will honk and the lights will NOT come on because the wiring is messed up.
PCAA: “I don’t think you should be bad-mouthing your car. There are lots of people who would be happy to have the car you have. That is not being very respectful. Remember, the Bible says love is patient and kind. You don’t seem to be patient and kind toward your car. Are you sure you have tried EVERYTHING?”
You: (half-serious) “Well, I haven’t pushed the button while holding my breath and standing on my head.”
PCAA: (brightening considerably) “OH! Well, yes! Try that! I’m sure that will work.”
And you are thinking, “Why doesn’t anyone ever look at the CAR and ask, “Hey, car, how come you are not doing what you are supposed to do according to the manual? You made a promise to your passenger. How do you expect your passenger to function if you aren’t doing what the manual says?” But, oddly, nobody does. They keep telling you “Try harder.” So you do. But there is that thought again, that maybe the wiring of the car is off somehow. Seems worth a look at least. If that is the problem, no amount of pushing the button will work.
You: “Car, do you think its possible that maybe your wiring is not correct? I mean, your family does have some wiring that seems to be faulty at times. I love your family, but you have admitted yourself that when you or your mom pushed button A and B, you never got what you expected to get. Maybe you need to check your wiring.”
Car: “WHAT?! So now you are blaming ME?! My wiring is nothing LIKE my family’s wiring! The Bible says I am not under any condemnation because I am a new creature in Christ. Who do you think you are? Do you think you are perfect?! You can’t figure out what button to push but it is MY fault?!”
So you quickly squash that thought because it is too…costly. So what now? You have been at this “trying to figure this car’s system out” for years now. You have kids in the back seat depending on you to figure the car out, but every time you push a button, something unexpected happens and it’s YOUR FAULT because the car says it is and the PCAA says it is.
Years go by. The buttons don’t match up to the manual. Sometimes they change from day to day so you have to constantly be on the alert. You begin to second-guess your own intelligence, your own skills, your own gifts, your own opinions, your own ideas. You become…the car. You learn what buttons will make the wipers come on and the radio to work and the oil gauge to move, all by memory because they are NOT in the manual. If you are tired or having a bad day and you forget and push the wrong button, watch out! That was the brake! How could you be so stupid as to push the wrong pedal?! You learn where to place your feet and your hands and exactly how to close the car door, not too hard, not too soft, but just right so as not to make the car mad. You keep the kids quiet, and try to play games with them to keep them distracted and oblivious to the car’s “oddities” while keeping up with the car maintenance, of course. In effect, you are exhausted and confused and not at all sure what the whole purpose is. The car becomes a stress-filled place that nobody wants to be in anymore.
So a few times over the years, you step out of the car. You slam the door (a real no-no) and stand there panting by the roadside. You just can’t take the pressure any more. The problems don’t get solved, but you are expected to continue on every day, trying harder, pushing buttons, getting nowhere, knowing you will make mistakes but trying your best to follow the manual and knowing there will be anger and disapproval thrust at you at every turn. But you made a promise. And there are kids in the back seat, depending on you, so you get back in, determined to “try harder,” and head down the road.
Then one day, you are no longer asking anyone’s advice. You are the one in the car every day. You are the only one who has seen your efforts and seen the responses. You have no more answers, no more ideas, no more options no more hope. And finally, you begin to seek out and talk with others who have been trying to get their cars to do what the manual says, to no avail, people who were frustrated and confused just like you and they tell you about a section they were given by some very nice, helpful people.
This section is in THE Manual and it says right there in Proverbs 22:24 “If you are following the manual and the car does not respond to the correct button being pushed, and the car will not take any responsibility for its own responses, get out of the car. It’s not safe. No amount of button pushing on your part will have the desired effect. The car needs to be rewired.”
Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man,
or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself. Proverbs 22:24-25
Many many thanks to debby for sending us this post. And a special thanks from Barb because absolutely no editing was required: it was fully proof read and ready-to-go! :)