A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abuse Counseling: How Long is “Forbearing”?

Ephesians 4:2 ESV  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

As I read the stories told by Christians, most often women, who have been the victims of abuse. I am dismayed to hear over and over again how their pastors and churches told them that they must give their abuser opportunity to repent, to go to counseling, to try to reform himself, etc.  Some victims are even condemned by their fellow Christians if they want to initiate divorce proceedings.  They are told that they must be patient and forbearing, and verses such as that quoted above are recited to them.

In abuse cases this is nonsense, and it is dangerous.  Furthermore, such counsel most often totally ignores the context of the victim’s relationship with the abuser.  Simply put, typically the victim has been enduring the abuse for years – 20, 30 or more years!  And now she is told that she must “try” being patient, such patience being a mark of real faith and pleasing to God.  I really hope that our readers can quickly see that this is lunacy.

Abuse victims, and in particular Christian abuse victims, are probably some of the most forbearing and patient people you will ever meet.  When you hear their stories and learn of all of the horrendous things they have endured, you marvel at their strength.  How in the world have they been able to endure?  I don’t think I could have.  The pressure on them is incredible and you can feel it pressing down on you as you hear them tell you what their life has been like for so long.

So, when they finally go to a pastor or some church leader and ask for help, forbearance and patience has almost always been performed to the fullest.  Insisting that they “try being patient as Christ is patient with us” is a foolish and damaging exercise doomed to fail at the best and to cause much more suffering and injury and perhaps even death at the worst.

Of course, since most Christians, pastors, and church leaders are woefully uneducated in the nature and tactics and effects of abuse, all of this never enters their mind.  They don’t ask how long it has been happening because to them the very concept of something so evil and longstanding is unthinkable.  Most Christians, you see, live in an imaginary world that never intersects with the world the abuse victim inhabits.  Or at least they think so.

So let’s not be guilty of telling these victims that they need to try to exercise more patience with their abuser.  After all, I think that God Himself would agree that 2 or 3 decades of terror is quite enough to qualify as forbearance.

Job 6:11-13 ESV (11)  What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient?  (12)  Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?  (13)  Have I any help in me, when resource is driven from me?

25 Comments

  1. Thankyou so much for this, Jeff. It’s great, as usual. The same pastors who are telling women to give their abusers a chance to repent are actually advocating giving abusers another chance to beat, rape or otherwise abuse a woman again, or even kill her. Anyway, hear hear.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Louise – Those pastors who will recognize their error when they hear the truth are true, yet imperfect, shepherds like all of us. But there are others (I hope they aren’t the majority, but…??) who only harden themselves in their error when we try to tell them the real nature of abuse. And the really sad cases are those in which a victim is able to finally sort out what is happening to her and see the error of the counsel she has been receiving from her church, but then when she tries to show them what she has learned, they go into defensive mode and harden in their error. All of us must realize that it is ok for us to admit it when we really have messed things up. I think that Christians who have been treated shoddily by their churches really do have a forgiving spirit and when they hear a heartfelt “we were absolutely wrong, please forgive us,” they are ready and eager to do so.

  2. Tania Mahoney

    I totally agree as one who has sought help from church leaders and met with some of this type of damaging comments. And the reality is some don’t have any idea what to say or do and think that just being faithful or praying will make it all go away, it is validating to read this and also with the church leaders that did help me. thanks

    • Jeff Crippen

      Tania- Thank you for your encouragement. Comments like yours in conjunction with articles like this demonstrate that we are not exaggerating when we say that these grievous errors and injustices are occurring with great regularity in our churches. In fact, I don’t think it is an overstatement – no, I KNOW it is not an overstatement – to say that this kind of “counsel” is the norm.

  3. I give a three hour workshop in churches on “The Church’s response to sexual abuse and domestic violence” that opens a lot of eyes to pastors and their congregations. I’ve had very little negative response afterwards, and have been blessed by the humility of most pastors who “had no idea” of what battered women have lived with under the guise of submission. Keep preaching it, Jeff!

  4. Jeff Crippen

    Thank you Morven. And I am encouraged to hear that you have had that kind of response from pastors. It is easy for me to think that none of them will listen, but there must be some out there who recognize truth when they hear it. This makes me want to keep on telling it and encouraging others like you who are speaking out as well.

  5. Jim

    The church I go to had a sermon on this just this Sunday-

    http://marshill.com/media/jesus-loves-his-church/jesus-reconciles-us

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, I see that, Jim. I wonder, did they insist upon reconciliation and forbearing for years and years in every case?

  6. Anonymous

    Well, I found out this week, that the elders in my Church called my abuser and asked him if they could have his permission to meet with me before the “session” of the Church. I could not believe it! Of course, he never told me that, nor did they. So, now I believe that they were trying to set me up, to bring me up on discipline or something, by having me come before the “session”, because I would not give them the reins when it came to setting boundaries for my and the children’s lives. The elders have not lifted one finger to help me or my children in any of this, (been in counsel for over a year) and one of the books they have wanted me to read was Sande’s, that you discuss in your other post here. I have been asked repeatedly, why we are afraid. They have said to me and my children, “well, he has never really hurt you, so why are you afraid?”. I am so sick of them trying to make us feel that we are “overreacting” or creating our own fear, because he has not broken any of our jaws, so there is really nothing to fear, that I could lose my mind. I just want to please God, and I don’t know why it has to be so hard and so confusing. We have left this Church, but they are still abusing us, just at a distance. They kept telling me to just wait and be patient and forgive, forgive, forgive, when I have been in this abuse for over 20 years. I am left feeling like I am making too much of it, because even though he has been physical against me, he has not really ever “hurt” me. My abuser goes through these periods where he looks like he may be changing or turning things around, and then uses his new found “Christianity” to abuse me, by telling me that I am not a quiet and gentle woman, nor respectful of him. He knows I long to be a godly and good wife. Of course I am not quiet and gentle, according to his definition. I am screaming on the inside, “Please stop abusing me and your children”, and I can imagine that does not look very quiet and gentle to anyone. I think I have just been so tossed about, that I cannot discern what is God and what is not, anymore.

    • There is absolutely no excuse for what he does to you, Anonymous, and it is typical of abusers to relegate responsibility away from themselves. Responsible counselling would have long since called him on this by now. It is not your fault. I’m so sorry this is happening to you; I’m appalled that traps are being laid for you like this and I hope this post starts you on the path to some real help. The abuse you’re experiencing leaves bruises that go deeper in some ways than abuse that is physical. You are NOT overreacting. ((((Hug))))

    • Dear Anon, it’s all so tragi-ludicrous isn’t it? They believe they must ask your husband’s permission to formally meet with you. They have such an excessively rigid view about the husband’s right to rule his wife that they have to ask your husband – the abuser – for permission to admonish you! But at the same time, the leaders are quite happy to informally lay guilt on you over and over again, outside the Formal Meeting of the Session. How two-faced.

      And why would they need to ask an abuser’s permission anyway? Because they don’t believe he is an abuser; and they don’t believe you’ve been abused. That’s the bottom line.
      I will quote you what a survivor said to me on the phone only last night: wear their scorn like a badge of honor.

      I suspect you may know what is God and what is not, more than you think, having seen your comment on this blog. You’ve given some great encouragement to other survivors. But at the same time, it sounds like every time you take another gulp of the air of truth, it hits you all over again how deceived and confused you’ve been for so long – deception and confusion which you are now coming out of.

  7. My current pastor asked me for permission to call my abuser just to encourage him to “think biblically” about things. _what ever that means. I asked him not to discuss anything I had told him about the abuse and also had made it clear that I did not like the idea of marriage counseling- he made his promises and next thing I know I get an email from the pastor saying that the abuser was really glad to hear from him and agreed to counseling! I was angry that this pastor went behind my back- and the abuser manipulated him into thinking he was all for fixing this. I told the pastor the abuser would do that, and the pastor was just sure he couldn’t be manipulated. Well, I expressed my anger and disappointment and flatout refused counseling. That was the last time the pastor has spoken to me about any of this. The elders and their wives know the situation, but they barely speak to me and have never even mentioned any of this to me-no compassion, no questions, nothing. I feel like a non-person-and yet I stay for my daughter, because she is tired of going from church to church and so am I, but if it were up to me, I would take a very long break from church entirely. My last experience before this was so traumatic, thanks to the pastor and my husband working in tandem, that I have very little for most pastors or church members anymore.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Sad story but so common isn’t it? Save the marriage, save the marriage, save the marriage. That plays like a stuck record in the minds of pastors and Christians. But in cases of abuse, the track we need to hear is save the victim, save the victim, save the victim. Jodi, the Lord always has His remnant. We can be like Elijah when he was fleeing from Ahab and Jezebel, thinking that we alone are left, but Christ always has His true people and true churches. But as in Elijah’s day, they can be pretty hard to find. I really empathize with you.

      • God Bless you Jeff!

    • Dear Jodi
      I understand your dilemma about staying in that church and how your daughter is tired of moving from church to church. Could you send your daughter to the service but not go yourself? Could you sit in your car and listen to one of Ps Crippen’s sermons on sermon audio, while she was in church? I know it might feel lonely, and exacerbate the ‘non-person’ feeling you may have, but if you could steel yourself against that false perception and think “I’m shunning them rather than them shunning me,” maybe that would be a viable option, at least for a season. Especially if you had a nice hot cup of coffee to drink while you were in the car [I'm a coffee lover, so I had to add that]. just a thought.

      As for your pastor who thought he was impregnable to manipulation, he ought to remember that verse “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 19:12)

      • Barbara,
        Oh, I wish I could, but It’s a really small church,so my absence would be very noticed-and I know my daughter would not like that arrangement at all-tempting as it is! I am thankful at least that this is the first church I have attended where I don’t have to correct the pastors preaching to the kids afterwards-except for his sermon on wifely submission-that was a doozey! It’s really difficult being the only woman in my circle of friends who is in the this position-I’m sure it is causing quite a scandal and will continue to do so.

    • no name please

      I had a godly friend who helped me most of the first year. About six months in I realized about the abuse…I knew something was wrong but couldn’t explain it and couldn’t understand why those counseling me couldn’t see his manipulation. anyway, this friend was very upset when I decided to go against her counsel and file for divorce. She was sure she could talk to him and get him to see reason, I just had to be patient. Sigh and when she did talk to him and it was obvious he had manipulated her ( at least to me and another woman who’d been through similar circumstances) , she refused to believe the manipulation when I pointed it out to her and claimed I was in sin and hard-hearted.

      • It just breaks my heart- before I became aware of this in my own life, I had absolutely no idea these kinds of things were happening in church. So clueless-but not anymore.

  8. Rebecca

    Amen, all so well shared Pastor Jeff, and especially this….

    “And the really sad cases are those in which a victim is able to finally sort out what is happening to her and see the error of the counsel she has been receiving from her church, but then when she tries to show them what she has learned, they go into defensive mode and harden in their error.”

    Anonymous and Jodi, I completely empathize with you and understand how it feels to not be believed or heard. I pray you will continue to seek out authentic voices of Truth and know that you are not alone.

    I experienced this in a previous church, which I eventually left with my children. The senior Pastor would not believe the magnitude of the abuse I lived, or admit that my particular situation, which is quite rare and deviant, was beyond what he was capable of handling. As a matter of fact, this pastor told me that he has ‘the gift of discernment’ and knew that my soon to be ex would never, has never hurt or involved my children in the deviant sexual violations. And then believed that the abuser (ex) had been healed, because the abuser made the claim. All the while, I endured threats, including financial, physical and public harassment at this church and the staff would do nothing.

    It was when I began to challenge the staff on their counsel, and no longer turned to them for guidance was when I began to be shunned and silenced by the staff. I believe it’s so important for us as survivors to seek to true discernment from the LORD, to know the difference between false teaching and sound Biblical truth.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Rebecca: Such pastors who claim this “discernment” are actually saying “thus saith the Lord” and are therefore false prophets. You responded correctly. They are of the very same brand as the prophets that plagued Jeremiah saying “peace, peace” when there was no peace. And in regard to your observation that once you began to challenge them they shunned you — this is a phenomenon we are hearing repeatedly from victims. It has to be coming from incredible arrogance. “How dare you not listen to us.” They set themselves up in God’s place and apparently think that they speak His infallible word.

      • Rebecca

        Jeff, that’s interesting. I’ve never thought of it or understood it that way before. This pastor regularly shared, even from the pulpit, about this gift of discernment and would proceed to share elaborate stories of himself. That is certainly alot of arrogance and pride. It is startling to realize how subtle yet obvious this is, but isn’t questioned. Well when it is, I see what happens. Many people have been leaving this church over the past several yrs….clearly some are seeing through the facade, or made uncomfortable enough to have to leave.

  9. Jeff wrote “And the really sad cases are those in which a victim is able to finally sort out what is happening to her and see the error of the counsel she has been receiving from her church, but then when she tries to show them what she has learned, they go into defensive mode and harden in their error.”
    I hear this from survivors over and over again: when they find their way out of the fog and are developing a correct understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse, they want to educate their church leaders about the nature of this sin. Their motive is to prevent other victims suffering from the church’s mishandling, like they have. But what happens? Too often, the leaders stone-wall them, refuse to be educated, and perceive the survivor as uppity, insubordinate, and arrogantly self-willed. The survivor is motivated only by good intentions and a desire to serve the church, but she is perceived as rebelling against the church ( = its leaders). This is nothing but arrogance, pure and simple.

    1 Corinthians 5:1-13; bold words indicate slight modifications of the original, but I think that the modifications do not depart from the spirit of the text:

    It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among decent unbelievers: for a man cruelly abuses his wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
    For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the abuser who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
    Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven … I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality, or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. … Purge the evil person from among you.

  10. no name please

    I cannot emphasize how much this echos truth to me!! Thank you for your ministry!

  11. MB

    Thank you very much for writing this. It’s so true and really needed to be said.

    • Jeff Crippen

      And thank you MB for the encouraging feedback.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,508 other followers

%d bloggers like this: