When the Abuser is a Pastor
Jeremiah 23:1-4 ESV “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD.
Increasingly we are hearing from abuse victims whose abuser is a pastor. Emphasis upon “increasingly.” These reports are common enough that we are beginning to wonder if one major reason abuse victims are being treated with such injustice in churches is because their pastor is an abuser himself. Yes, many pastors are just plain clueless about abuse. They are fearful when an abuse report comes their way and they morph into self-protection mode. But the plain, biblical truth is that false shepherds creep into the body of Christ and destroy and scatter Christ’s sheep. They scatter Christ’s sheep. Not other sheep. But the lambs of Christ.
When an abuser is a pastor, he uses his position and pulpit to effect his power and control, lording it over the people, and has a secondary purpose as well: to cover his own wickedness. He covers himself by:
- Demanding abuse victims remain with their abuser
- Forbidding divorce for abuse with “biblical” arguments
- “Confessing” his own sins in sermons and announcing how his wife always lovingly forgives him
- Making divorce out to be the unpardonable sin
- Warping the doctrines of marriage, including the concepts of head and submission
- Puts on a “pastor persona” especially in the pulpit that can even parade as humility but in fact lords it over the flock
- Twisting the doctrines of regeneration, justification, and sanctification to excuse sin in the believer
- Fills his sermons with tradition, with his own ideas and stories and experiences which actually become the “meat” of his sermon rather than Scripture
- Deals with Scripture superficially and in passing, then pronouncing his own interpretations and applications with little or no biblical support
- Mocking women, often in a manner of “plausible deniability” in case he is ever called down for doing this. “I wasn’t serious. I was just being funny.”
We should expect abusers to seek the position of pastor. Why? Well, what better venue for doing the things he loves the most: putting on a godly facade, being the center of attention, controlling others, getting onto a track for increasing his power and fame. No wonder Jesus warned us about wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul did as well and so did Peter and so did…almost every book of the Bible!
Did you ever see the recent movie “Bernie”? It is based upon the true story of a guy who blew into a small town and soon became the most popular personality in the whole community. He was a funeral director, stage director, professing Christian, talented singer, and he knew just what to do at just the right times in social settings. And then he enamored himself to an elderly rich widow, took her money, and murdered her. He put her body in a freezer and kept right on spending her money for months before being found out. In spite of overwhelming evidence – including his own confession that he shot the woman – many people in the town still think he was treated unjustly in being sent to prison.
Human beings are capable of incredible deception. And the most masterful at this trade seem to choose the arena of the church to carry out their devilish, self-serving plans at the expense of the sheep of Christ’s pasture.
Jude 1:4 ESV
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Acts 20:28-30 ESV Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
There are faithful, genuine shepherds out there who are truly pastoring Christ’s flock. But this is how they are going to look:
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
1 Kings 22:7-14 ESV But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah the son of Imlah.” Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and all the prophets were prophesying before them. And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.'” And all the prophets prophesied so and said, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.” And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.”
See it? All the mass of “preachers” were telling the king exactly what he wanted to hear. Micaiah stood alone. He would not compromise God’s Word, no matter what the consequences to him. This should deliver a powerful “light bulb” moment to our thinking. We can expect many – the mainstream – to be carried off with error and to be preaching error. So when it comes to this whole matter of abuse hiding in the church, we should pay close heed to the Lord’s warning. “Many will come in My name….”. MANY.
And it would seem that now, in our day, we are witnessing this very thing. Micaiah was what? ONE in 400!
1 Kings 22:6 ESV Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.”
Why would we expect that ratio to be any different today?