Interview With Jeff Crippen About A Cry For Justice (the book)
The following questions were asked by Pastor Matthew Claridge in an interview about our book, A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church [*affiliate link]. He did an excellent job formulating these very important and insightful interview points. Many thanks to him.
NOTE: We are publishing this article even though it is the weekend due to numbers of requests for it to be made available.
1. Jeff, what impelled you to write a book on this difficult topic?
About 4 years ago a grievous incident of the sexual abuse of a child occurred that directly affected our church. After sorting out how to handle that situation (we reported it to the police and the abuser was not permitted to return to our church), I resolved to do further study on sexual abusers so that I could be better equipped to identify them in advance and protect our people. The first book I read was Scott Allen Johnson’s Physical Abusers and Sexual Offenders which linked sexual abuse with domestic violence abuse. So I began to read more widely, including in the field of domestic abuse.
As I read, the “lights went on” in my thinking because I began to recognize the mentality and tactics of abusers (entitlement, power and control, justification) as being the very kinds of things I myself had been a victim of for 25 years as a pastor. I could fully identify with victims of abuse because these very same kinds of people frequently crept into the churches I had pastored and effected their abuse on anyone they perceived to be a threat to their power-quest. Playing the victim, blaming, re-inventing history, crazy-making and all the rest were tactics I was all too familiar with but had never heard these things given a name. I began to sense a freedom from the false guilt and futility that this abuse had enslaved me to for so long. I was impelled to tell my story and in doing so I was able to connect with abuse victims and speak for them as well.
2. You often make the point that abusers are not “sinners like the rest of us” and therefore they should not be treated the same. Why do you think you can get away with saying that?
One of the greatest errors we make in our thinking as Christians is that sin is sin. It isn’t. While all of us are born into this world as fallen creatures enslaved to sin and dead to God, the level of our actual depravity is not the same. For example, Jesus said: ESV Matthew 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (Mat 11:21 ESV). Proverbs identifies different classes of people, including some kinds of “fools” whom you shouldn’t waste your breath on. The New Testament gives us several paradigms for church discipline, depending upon the kind of sinner we are dealing with.
George Simon Jr. (In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance), Martha Stout (The Sociopath Next Door), Robert Hare (Without Conscience) and Jan Silvious (Fool-Proofing Your Life) are incredibly helpful in explaining to us that there is a radical difference in the thinking of sociopaths/psychopaths and people like the rest of us. And if we are naive enough to treat them in the same manner we would deal with more “normal” sinners, we are going to be chewed up and spit out by them. There is a spectrum of abuse that is largely characterized by a greater or lesser presence of conscience.
3. Some people might argue that “abuse” is not a category dealt with in the Bible, yet from your numerous and repeated references to Scripture you seem to differ. Can we find “abuse” in Scripture and does Scripture offer sufficient instruction to deal with it?
In my opinion, the clearest example of abusers in Scripture is the Pharisees. Study the Pharisees and you will see abuse in action. Self-glorification, lack of empathy, distorted religion for narcissistic ends, lust for power and control. The Pharisee has it all. And if we would see how to deal with such abusers, all we need do is look at how Christ dealt with them. You can also see a classic example of an abuser in the person of Diotrephes in 3 John, and note how the Apostle intends to deal with him. Then you have the false teachers in 2 Corinthians who lord it over those naive believers, even “hitting them in the face.” Satan and his emissaries also give us a clear picture of abuse, and the Scriptures record how Christ and His Apostles dealt with them.
Scripture is sufficient. The problem is, we are not. We lack wisdom. We need to experience many things before we ever see them in God’s Word. Once you have your eyes opened (usually by hard personal suffering at the hands of an abuser), you begin to see it all over the place in Scripture. Unfortunately most pastors, counselors and Christians just don’t “get it” when it comes to the suffering of abuse victims and the mentality and deceptive tactics of the evil of abuse.
4. Its not uncommon to hear that the imprecatory psalms are meant to be read “spiritually” or in light of movement in redemption history. Yet in light of your liberal use of them in describing the “cry for justice” among many victims of abuse, they might have a more direct application. What should be the church’s approach to the “cry for justice?”
Vengeance belongs to the Lord. But Christ’s people hunger and thirst for righteousness and therefore, just as Christ did, we long for that great Day of justice. The Apostle Paul was doing this very thing and it is in the very same spirit as the imprecatory Psalms:
2 Thes 1:4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
(2Th 1:4-10 ESV)
We can even forgive our enemies, yet still pray for the Lord’s justice and vengeance upon them. We need not make any apologies for praying the imprecatory Psalms against the enemies of Christ. And that means praying them against an abuser as well.
5. Doesn’t forgiveness of an abuser presuppose reconciliation with an abuser? Isn’t that the definition of forgiveness?
Horrific damage is regularly done to abuse victims through the unbiblical teaching of forgiveness that is so common in our churches. One of the advantages of studying abuse is that it forces us to sort out our thinking on some very vital subjects like forgiveness.
No, forgiveness does not include reconciliation. Paul, for example, had been wronged by Alexander the coppersmith. And yet – 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. (2Ti 4:14-15 ESV) Was Paul guilty of unforgiveness because he didn’t reconcile with Alexander? No way. And yet we have pastors and Christians pressing terrible false guilt upon abuse victims by telling them that they must reconcile with their abuser or they are guilty of unforgiveness. This is a tragedy.
One of the very best discussions of correct biblical forgiveness is found in Steven Tracy’s great book, Mending the Soul, chapter 10. Tracy gets it right. Most books on forgiveness do not.
6. Why do you think the church is often so naive about abusers and harmful to victims?
Basically it requires nothing of us to side with an abuser. It is very costly to stand with a victim. All the abuser does is ask us to do nothing. But to stand with the oppressed, well, just think what the Good Samaritan had to do to take care of the robbery victim he came upon.
Another reason is that we are simply ignorant of evil. We get duped by the deceptive tactics and saintly facades the abuser is so masterful at practicing and wearing. Pastors receive no training in this subject, yet Bible in hand we dive right into any situation thinking we are competent to counsel. But we are not. We can become competent, but that will take much work on our part. It also requires that we humble ourselves and admit that we don’t know it all and further, that there are many even secular professionals who are far more qualified than us that we can learn from.
Finally, often we just want victims to go away because they make us look bad. These kinds of evils are not supposed to happen in our churches. What will the community think? The very same dynamics come into play when a case of sexual abuse is uncovered in our churches. Very, very often the victim is pushed away, discounted, and even blamed.
7. Your argument for divorce and remarriage in the case of non-physical abuse would be quite controversial in some circles. What is your case for this position?
Until a person becomes competent and knowledgeable in the field of abuse – its mentality, its tactics, its effects upon victims – they are not yet competent to write a book on divorce. And yet we have myriads of books and sermons being produced that obviously are clueless when it comes to abuse. As a result, much harm is done to victims and much enablement is given to abusers.
My biblical case for divorce is most clearly stated by David Instone-Brewer in his books Divorce and Re-Marriage in the Church and also Divorce and Re-Marriage in the Bible. Woodenly literal hermeneutics have resulted in erroneous positions on the basis for divorce and even in the biblical understanding of marriage. I agree with Instone-Brewer that Jesus did not give a comprehensive, all-inclusive statement on divorce in the Gospels, as is clear when we look at 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul says that he has more to say on this subject. Things that Jesus did not say. Paul’s teaching on desertion, related back to Exodus 21 and the teaching there in regard to the rights of a slave wife indicate to me that abuse is grounds for divorce. We have pastors and churches, knowing full well that there is difference of opinion on this subject among sound Christians, come to their own conclusion and then enforce that position on people even under threat of ex-communication. This is arrogant and it is wrong.
The fundamental help Reformed theology has been to me in this area is that it has given me the ability to say that the abuser, as I define abusers in my book, is not and cannot be a Christian. A person who is defined by a mentality of entitlement to power and control, who feels entirely justified in using whatever means are necessary to gain and maintain that power and control, and who can sleep quite well at night after effecting such evil on another person fails Scripture’s test miserably. Reformed soteriology maintains that when Christ saves us, He effects a radical change in us so that we are new creations. He writes His law upon our hearts (Jer 31). His Spirit indwells us and leads us (Romans 8) and Jesus teaches us how to love others (I John). Thus, the reformed understanding of Scripture shines the light of exposure upon evil as it tries to hide in our churches.
9. What would be you main piece of advice to elders and churches about how to expose abuse and support victims?
First, admit that it is there. In your own church. The statistics show that it is. Second, educate yourselves about abuse. Read my book (sorry for the plug). Read Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He do That? Read Barbara Roberts’ book Not Under Bondage (Barbara is a Christian and an abuse survivor). Come to fully understand just what abuse is. Until we know what it is, we will never be able to properly apply God’s Word to it.
Third, educate your congregation about abuse. I preached a 21 part sermon on the subject which is still available for listening at sermonaudio.com/crc. Listen to that series. Play it in your small groups and discuss it. You will learn more about sin than you ever have!
Fourth, and probably most vital, make it very plain from your pulpit that if anyone in your congregation is suffering from abuse, YOU WILL BELIEVE THEM AND LISTEN TO THEM when they come to you. Don’t worry that you are going to throw open the doors for false claims of abuse by people who just want a divorce. What we have found is that Christians in an abusive marriage, if anything, tend to stay in it too long.
* Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link