A Cry For Justice

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

What is Our Mission in Light of the MacArthur, Piper, Sproul Errors About Abuse?

I am not a politician – I am a pastor.  A controlling, power-seeking man once told me years ago that if I did not become a better politician, I would never make it as a pastor.  I blew him off.  And I still do.  He was right in a sense.  Our church has grown small.  A politician would have kept them happy and the crowd would have stayed. But that is not the Christian pastor’s calling.  In fact, one reason abuse victims are receiving so much injustice in our churches is because leaders are playing the politics game.

But I’m not a politician.  Sometimes I don’t have the smarts to anticipate how my statements are going to affect the people who hear or read them.  Many of you are wiser in these things than I am.  Maybe you would tell me that I shouldn’t say what I am about to say, and you might be right.  But, this is what is on my mind, so here it is.  I can always delete it, right?

I believe that our primary mission right now, in light of the horrible ignorance of abuse in our own conservative churches and in light of the terrible injustices regularly being meted out to victims who seek help from their pastors, that our mission is to address this very problem.  I am not sure how yet.  Writing books and blogs and networking is certainly a pretty good start.  We need to sound the alarm, loud and clear, about what is going on.  We need to expose and oppose and correct the nonsense that the “big” leaders, like MacArthur, Piper, and Sproul (these are just 3 of many examples) have been feeding our churches for a long, long time – largely unopposed.  We need to issue a cry for justice and expose to as many Christians as we can just how wickedly abuse victims are being treated.  And how the evil abusers are being enabled and protected.  You know the story.  For many of you, it is your own story.

Now, here is the issue I that bring up to you with fear and trembling.  I do not think it is wise for us to allow ourselves to get all caught up in the complementarian/egalitarian debate, at least in regard to this specific mission.  Anyone who really “gets it” in regard to abuse and especially if they are truly Christians, has a burning desire for justice and for the correction of this evil, be they complementarian or egalitarian in their views of the headship/submission doctrine of Scripture.  I have my views in regard to this particular debate – most of you probably can guess what my position is.  (By the way, whichever side you might imagine I am on, I can tell you that I fully agree that the truly biblical concept of headship/submission has not very often been taught to us or by us).

But, can you see the danger?  I don’t know if there will be conferences planned or seminars or strategy planning meetings, but I do suspect that abusers would love nothing better than to see our efforts dissolve into a mass of argumentation and division over some secondary debate.  What I see our mission to be (help me out on this if it needs to be tweaked) is to expose what is going on, how these victims are being treated, how the evil abuser is duping us all, and how pastors and church leaders and church members are rendering terrible injustice to the weak and oppressed.    For right now, I don’t care about arguing over the specifics of headship/submission, husband/wife roles, and so on.  I have my views on those issues!  (I am right, he,he,he, as Anna would say).  You all have your views on those issues, and you are sure you are right.  But  I really think we need to leave that discussion for another time.  I KNOW it is not a totally unimportant subject, NOR am I saying that it has nothing to do with the injustices we want to expose.  I also don’t mind if any readers of this blog want to discuss those issues here.  But wouldn’t it be a shame to be divided by what I would call a secondary issue, and once again the abuser would win?

Whew!  There.  I hope you all understand and I hope I haven’t politically shot myself in the foot.  I don’t have that many toes left 🙂


  1. Diana K. Stooshnov

    I really like what you are saying. You need to state your position with confidence, love and grace and leave all the apologetics out of it. Your message is true and real. Love your voice and keep up the good work.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Diana – thank you very much. This is still largely a new field of ministry for me (Jeff). Anna has been at it far longer than I, and she certainly has suffered more than I in the furnace of abuse. Please keep in touch with us here. It is a great place to connect and maybe we all can really effect some change in the church.

  2. I’d never heard those terms before (complementarian/egalitarian) so I googled them just for funsies. Turns out, I grew up in a egalitarian church. Who knew? My husband and father, on the other hand, were drawn to the other and that’s where we stayed for years. The twisted teaching directly affected my life and the lives of my children. It does need to be addressed.

    Perhaps we can do some dividing– submission topics vs. ministry?

    The only aspect of this debate I see as relevant is the teaching of the wife’s submission to her husband as a unilateral, in-all-things kind of way. The teaching permeates the culture and feeds abuse. Either we really need to dissect those scriptures and find out what God has in mind, or we have to drop the debate and figure, let every husband and wife work this out for themselves. The minute a husband starts telling his wife to submit, you got a problem. The minute a pastor/teacher/woman’s leader starts telling a wife she has to submit, you got a bigger problem.

    As for the other issue in this debate– women in ministry– I don’t see a problem. Let’s agree to disagree if necessary. Any woman who wants to be a pastor can find a denomination who’s okay with that if she wants. Personally, I don’t. But– and here’s the really big but– if a church or groups starts shushing the women, applying pressure because they somehow see them as inferior or morally weaker, you’ve got a serious attitude problem that breeds abuse.

    If a church with all male leadership can’t hear a woman out who steps forward with a word of instruction or correction or whatever *because she’s a woman* (rather than judging her words based on their merit and wisdom) then you’ve got a problem.

    I don’t see this going away entirely until we see the new heavens and new earth and all things are restored.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Ida Mae – Here is where I think you really nail the issue: ” If a church with all male leadership can’t hear a woman out who steps forward with a word of instruction or correction or whatever *because she’s a woman* (rather than judging her words based on their merit and wisdom) then you’ve got a problem.”

      That is what I think is happening in many churches, and it is the product of an overt or covert distortion of the concept of headship/submission. Man is the head, woman is to submit. Yes, but what does that mean? And more, what does it NOT mean? We have been way, way lax on preaching and teaching specifically on these things and as a result the abuser runs with it. Not only him, but it can infect everyone in the church, including the leaders. So, women are not listened too in many cases, and it seems especially when a woman comes to the pastor with the complaint that her husband is abusive.

      This aspect of the problem certainly does need to be addressed. I have been challenging myself and our elders lately to really think seriously and honestly about how we respond when a woman comes to us with a comment, observation, or asking for help. Really – how do I view her? I have grown up being taught that the man is the head of the woman. But I sure didn’t have a godly example of that in my dad. No way. Nor in my grandparents. It seems then that we are left to figure it out ourselves. If our pastors and teachers make it sound simplistic, we will just latch on to the first image that comes into our minds, i.e., man is in charge, woman is to obey. Thus the mess we are in.

      Hey, at least now you know what egalitarian and complementarian are!

      • Many of us didn’t have godly examples and because of that we tend to color all over the page going way out of the lines over here and way out of the lines over there. Leads to crazy mad confusion. Man is the head of the woman if he is married to her. That doesn’t mean he has the right to enslave her, dominate her or control her. It also doesn’t mean that an individual man is the head of every woman he knows or that an individual woman is under the head of every man she knows. One man, one woman, one headship. Yes, men are to pastor and otherwise lead the church; that doesn’t mean that women aren’t a vital part of it, though. This me-caveman stuff has gone on far too long in churches, homes, businesses and so on. Let’s get a grip, guys: you are called to lead your wife not control her; you aren’t called to lead any other woman unless you happen to be in a position of authority in her life. And you are never, ever, entitled to put yourself up by putting her down or seeing her as less than you. I’ve known too many pastors who, when a woman was in their presence, suddenly put on a superior air and acted like they were somehow entitled to homage.

        Hey, that’s one more thing that makes Jeff different. That’s why he’s doing this: he gets it, most don’t.

  3. Anonymous

    Jeff, in mulling over this, these are the points that have become clear to me. Please feel free to disagree if you think there’s something I’m missing. Our strategy has to be multi-faceted. On the issue of domestic abuse, we have to be straight, to the point and enlightening for the women who need to hear it. I remember that all the times I heard abuse mentioned, and it was not very often, it was vague. Nobody went into what it was and what it wasn’t. So if a person made an exception to something because of abuse, it was not explained so you never knew if the exception applied to you or not. I remember once hearing a pastor say that women must always give their husbands sex, “but obviously there are exceptions like if there is abuse” but I bet many women there were waiting to hear that expanded.

    But when it comes to educating church leadership, the egal/comp issue has to be dealt with a softly-softly approach if it arises, simply opening the way for questions about what the doctrine looks like for the average Christian home and what it means for women married to personality-disordered men. I mentioned it on a comment to a different blogpost (and it should have gone here) that it will be used by abusers to divert attention, as you have put it so succinctly.

    The other complexity comes to mind when I read Ida Mae’s comment. My church leadership have no problem with women pastors or preachers. Most pastors I know will publicly object to men demanding submission from his wife. But that didn’t mean that my abusive ex couldn’t find allies. He himself didn’t like women pastors or preachers but kept silent due to pressure. But he often managed to dupe them or use them to further his abuse simply because they were untrained in the dynamics of abuse. Some will still blame the woman even if they don’t push the submission thing strongly – one pastor told me I was the problem for being too submissive and allowing him to get away with it. So I began to speak up, and the marriage slid downwards (as I suspected it would) and eventually disintegrated.

    The bottom line is, even in a generally egalitarian church, the victim is invisible and the abuser wins. He STILL spreads his slander in the mens groups where they gather around him and give him support.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks much for sharing your experience and insights. I have wondered what the scenario is and how it plays itself out in egalitarian churches. That is why I don’t want us to be divided by the egal/comp issue as we work together to expose the evils that are being done to abuse victims in the Christian church. Yes, we MUST be very specific when we talk about abuse. We have to draw a very clear picture of what it is, how it thinks, and what its tactics are, or people will just blow it off.

    • That’s funny. I heard this one too–

      “Some will still blame the woman even if they don’t push the submission thing strongly – one pastor told me I was the problem for being too submissive and allowing him to get away with it.”

      After being told over and over I wasn’t submissive enough ( hidden rebellion– he could see it in my eyes), the turn-around–he doesn’t respect a woman he can walk all over. This was your fault.

      And they wonder why we act a little nuts at times?

      • Jeff Crippen

        Ida Mae – When it comes to much of what is called Christianity nowadays, “nuts” is normal, biblical Christianity. What is the title of that one guy’s book? – “I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian, and I Liked Him Better Then” – or something like that. Of course, he means the biblical Jesus, not the phony that has been created by so many people today.

  4. Yes to all that everyone’s said (and I want to tick the box ‘please notify me of follow up comments).

  5. I agree with Jeff that Ida Mae nailed it: ” If a church with all male leadership can’t hear a woman out who steps forward with a word of instruction or correction or whatever *because she’s a woman* (rather than judging her words based on their merit and wisdom) then you’ve got a problem.”

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that lead balloon feeling and feel patronised and politely shunned when I raise the topic of domestic abuse to Christian men, or mixed-sex groups. When I’m speaking only to Christian women, there is more likely to be a smidgeon of validation or interest, at least initially (though it often evaporates once I press the issue more).
    So many Christian men give me the impression they would never allow a woman to teach them anything, even informally during the coffee time after the worship service.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, when an attitude like that reigns in a church, then something has gone wrong with that church’s teaching on God’s truth about men and women. Surely the Bible does not teach us that women are inferior beings, and yet while we give lip service to “equal before God but different in roles,” something has to be gong amiss. Think about “women’s ministry” in our churches for example. What comes into your mind when you hear that title? In-depth pursuit of the truth of Scripture through vigorous study and discussion? Or tea and cookies?

      • Women’s Ministry? – what comes to mind is craft sessions, morning teas, mother-daugher events, and yearly dinners where you make funny hats out of newspaper and play games like ‘guess the baby photo.’ Bible studies where an old lady sternly tells the rest of us what to think about the Bible. Or Bible studies where women share their experiences in relation to what’s been in the little Bible reading, but never get into deep stuff that would really share the wounds and scars much. And “You are His Princess” studies that stroke the ego but don’t challenge the soul.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Haha! Funny, but true. It seems to me that churches – unknowingly? – relegate women via “women’s ministry” to the sidelines. There must be some such ministries that are valid, but shouldn’t women’s ministry, in a biblical sense, be militant? I don’t mean in some “in your face” way, but militant as the Church of Jesus Christ is to be militant. I think, for example, that this ministry to abuse victims and of exposing abuse in the church and the injustices being carried out toward victims, requires some hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I still believe that the key path to reaching the leaders of our churches is through the women of the church becoming knowledgeable of what is going on and speaking out against it. That is women’s ministry! Apart from taking action on things like abuse, women’s ministry should be characterized by meaty, in-depth Bible study of meaty, in-depth doctrines. It turns out that theology isn’t so unimportant. What a woman (or man) thinks about God, about the righteousness of Jesus Christ, about justification, election, the nature of the true Israel, redemption, perseverance of the saints and so on are the very things that will set her free.

      • Now now, Jeff. Why on earth would you be wanting to set those women free? No telling what they might do! They might go getting out of hand and/ or causing all the other wives to get ideas. Uppity women? Perish the thought!!

        Got to keep the little ladies in their place. After all, we all know they are morally inferior creatures who led Adam astray and we would not be in this mess if God had just created Adam and left it at that.

        *glares about at any women around who might be getting ideas*

      • Jeff Crippen

        Fred Thompson played the role of Admiral Josh Painter in the movie, The Hunt for Red October. I think he summed up very well why abusers are enabled to hide in the church and why victims are discounted. He said –

        This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.

        This “business” is, of course, the exposure of the evils of abuse and of the injustices being done to victims. Abusers and the traditions of the church will never survive exposure. It will get out of control – they know it.

      • ” I still believe that the key path to reaching the leaders of our churches is through the women of the church becoming knowledgeable of what is going on and speaking out against it. That is women’s ministry! ”
        In some ways I agree with this statement, Jeff (even tho I wrote somewhere else on your blog that I didn’t agree).
        Let me quote what Susan Hunt, a prominent women’s ministry leader in the Presbyterian Church in America ( a denomination that strongly endorses male leadership) wrote in her book “By Design: God’s Distinctive Calling For Women”.

        Start quote:
        Women cannot expect men to understand the plight or the passions of wounded women, but men can listen to and accept the reality of these women’s situations. Often men seem to be able to “hear” better if other women bridge the gap. Spiritually mature women may be better equipped to articulate a hurting woman’s pain to men, so these women can be helpers to the male leaders in the church by being advocates for hurting women. (p 58)
        [she explains what what she means by hurting women, and she includes women who have been raped, battered, abandoned, abused, in her list.]
        … As I was becoming aware of these issues, I was appalled! I experienced a range of emotions such as denial, compassion, grief and anger. The anger went in all directions, but much of it was towards the male leadership in churches. I would tell my husband about these women, and about my frustration and anger. Over and over he said to me, “Susan, I hear what you are saying, but I must admit that I would never have imagined that a woman would be feeling that pain or having those emotions. I’m glad I have you to tell me.” Finally I got the message! My husband is the kindest, most compassionate man I know. If he does not connect with female emotions without me telling him, how could I think other men would make the connection?
        … It is difficult for men to understand the emotions of these [hurting] women; but other women can be the interpreters of those feelings. When I admitted this, my emotions became productive. I realised that women, including myself, must be the advocates *to* church leaders *for* emotionally and physically bruised women. I realised that I could speak for them, and that I could encourage other women to speak for them. (p 62-3)
        End quote.

        When I read those words of Susan Hunt’s I felt excited. Here was a woman who would understand what I was on about! Here was a woman, a woman in leadership in a conservative denomination in America, and a complementarian spokeswoman no less, who would be my ally and would explain my mission to her male colleagues! So I emailed her.
        She replied, but as soon as I told her that I’d written a book on *Doctrine* (and dIvorce doctrine no less!) she dropped me like a hot potato. That, according to her, was something only men could write on.

        So much for finding an ally in Susan Hunt. Yet another of my dreams bit the dust. It became clear at that point that I’d never find allies in those circles.

        But it doesn’t mean that your hope that women will wake up men is a pipe-dream, Jeff. We are all working on it, aren’t we?

  6. “This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.”
    … remember King Ahaseurus and his big-shot friends’ consternation about Queen Vashti’s refusal to obey her husband’s command:
    “the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt… This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty.”
    Yep. Contempt and wrath in plenty. It will get out of control.
    But let’s be forthright rather than disguise the facts with vague words like “it” –
    ABUSERS will loose the control they’ve had. That’s what they’re afraid of.

  7. Sheryl

    I too had to look up the definition of egal/comp. I grew up in a church that treated women as second class citizens. Possibly was just one more chain in the link that kept me in bondage in my abusive relationship long after I had biblical grounds for separation.
    As I read this article and the comments I realize just how blessed I am by the help that I have gotten and the fact that I now fellowship in a church that has multiple headship and also a deep desire to grow up many disciples for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom. Example: Even I, an ‘un-equipped’ daughter of the King am invited to facilitate women’s studies. (BTW, I am currently doing a very impactful study, War of Words by David Paul Tripp). Loving seeing how God does indeed equip the called. As I press into trusting Him in this service He blesses me abundantly. Trials continue from the abuser in my life and my weak flesh longs for these battles to cease, but I try to bear in mind that these battles are those of the heavenly realms and as I press into the Lord He is using them to sanctify me. (Please do not hear in that sentence that I condone the abuse nor am I saying to tolerate it as ‘just part’ of sanctification. Abuse is abuse; mine was insidiously subtle in it’s verbal, emotional and psychological attacks and darn near drove me to insanity or suicide.) What I see in my life, is that as I trust God more and more (as part of my co-dependent behavior was to try to take control and not trust God), He truly is taking care of things. Each toxic/dysfunctional situation has it’s own variances, depending on each individual and all of the nuances of each of our sin nature’s; thus where I see God pointedly using this in my life to bring about the sanctification He desires may look differently than another abuse survivors.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Wonderful, Sheryl. You’ve come a long way! As I read what you have to say here, it impresses me that Scripture really is true when it tells us that it is through suffering that Christ sanctifies and matures us. (As you said, this does not mean that the evil that causes the suffering is in itself good. It is not). But I am hearing Christians like you, contacting us and one another on this blog, who have been through the fire and I am seeing this playing itself out. I mean, how could you ever have learned the things you have just shared with us here, if you had not suffered? And I think that this is one reason why so many Christians today remain shallow and naive. They haven’t suffered for Christ. They haven’t met evil – or at least it still has them seduced and deceived. Victims of abuse are much like Christians who have been imprisoned for their faith in some totalitarian country. Once they emerge, they are not the same as when they entered. And that is a good thing.

    • Over-emphasis on male leadership and female submission is “just one more chain in the link” that keeps victims of abuse in bondage.
      Thanks for that phrase, Sheryl. You’ve nailed it exactly.

      Complementarian teaching is not the prime cause of abuse, it’s just one link in the chain that can entrap victims. And the opposite is also true: egalitarian teaching is not the complete antidote to domestic abuse. Egalitarian teaching can break one link in the chain, but it won’t by itself necessarily set the victim free. After all, abusers can pull lots of other weapons from their arsenal if the YOU MUST SUBMIT TO ME line no longer works.
      Getting free involves multi-faceted re-calibration of belief and doctrine. Also, most victims don’t get free until they get support from people who believe them. Not to mention basic stuff like sufficient income, housing, health, etc.

      • We’ve made submission to a husband more important than submission to Christ. No wonder abuse occurs.


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