A Cry For Justice

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

Confronting Abuse: We Must be Like John the Baptist

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Matthew 14:1-12 ESV

When I was only 21 years old, I was hired as a deputy sheriff in a smaller sheriff’s department here in Oregon.  I loved police work, was about to graduate from college, and went through the Oregon Police Academy.  I only spent a little over one year at this department, subsequently moving on to a larger one in Portland.  But I was there long enough to learn about power.  How it corrupts, and how it is misused by those who possess it.  The sheriff, who was touted as an up-and-coming young political figure, had his little band of loyalists whom he owed for helping get him elected.  On at least two occasions, I came to work and found that one of these people had been promoted to sergeant, and on still another day suddenly here was this new “guy” whom I had never seen before whom the sheriff had hired as a lieutenant!  No job openings for these promotions had ever been listed.  Money also changed hands.  At year end, remaining budget funds were paid out for “overtime” work, and it was that little circle who received the large bulk of those monies. In the end, this sheriff came crashing down after it became public news that he had taken trustee prisoners from the jail home to do work on his house and that he had made sexual advances toward them.  He died of sexually-transmitted disease some years later.

The abuse of power.  Evil seeks out high places.  And therefore, we must not be surprised to find that wickedness seeks out high position in the Christian church.  Church history is filled with such examples, is it not?  Man, in his sin, craves to create positions of power, so unbiblical hierarchies and offices are created and then filled with men who have a lust for power and control and, well, that brings us back to abuse, doesn’t it?  These wolves in sheep’s clothing have been responsible for horrid abuse of the people of Christ for centuries, and they do it all in the name of the Jesus whom they persecute.

Yesterday as my wife and I were cruising down the highways on a motorcycle trip, I found myself (as I increasingly am doing) looking at church buildings as we passed them.  Many of them have the typical church billboards out front with pithy sayings (many are rather corny and pathetic, but some are good).  And what do I think when I see these churches?  I find myself wondering, “is a wolf ‘shepherding’ the flock there?”  “How many victims of secret abuse might there be in that place?”  “How many biblical doctrines are distorted in that building every week to serve the pleasure of abusive people?”  “Is that place really a local church of Jesus Christ, or has He long since departed?”  And, mind you, I am not speaking about the obviously liberal churches that deny the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures.  I know what they are.  No, the ones that cause me to wonder and ask these questions are those churches like mine, who profess to believe the Word of God.

Lest anyone think that I am being too critical or exaggerating the case, let me remind our readers that it is not at all uncommon for me or for Barbara to be contacted by readers who are married to an abuser who is also a pastor.  I haven’t kept track of the numbers, but given how very difficult it must be for a pastor’s wife who is being abused by a husband who is a pastor to admit it to anyone, I believe that the numbers of such pastors is higher than any of us might really want to know.  Remember though, evil seeks out high places.  “I will be like the Most High” is its craving.  And really then, what better place to exercise that deception and abuse than in the role of pastor?  A real shepherd of Christ’s flock may not realize this, but the pastoral office, in the hands of wicked men, can be crafted into an incredibly powerful device for exalting the one holding it and for subjecting, using, and abusing those he sets himself over.  He speaks God’s Word!  He tells people how they must live!  He hears their confessions and represents them to God!  This is how people, if they become gullible and fail to search out the Scriptures, will be brought under the control of a wolf.

And what of such a man’s wife?  What of “the pastor’s wife”?  As most any conservative pastor’s wife will tell you, being married to the pastor of her church is no picnic, even if he is a genuine, godly man!  Incredible pressure can be put upon her, even though she doesn’t get a paycheck!  In most churches, you’d better believe that she has a job description, though it is an unwritten one.  Now, couple all of this with the scenario in which the pastor is an abusive husband, and can you imagine the terrible position his wife is in?

And this brings us back round to John the Baptist.  Abuse must be exposed and confronted.  I do not mean by this that the abuse victim herself needs to do this, though she will certainly be key in the exposure.  We all know by now that there are complicated factors that prevent an abuse victim from just coming “out with it” or “just leaving the jerk!”  Children, finances, whether she will be believed or not, physical danger to her and her children at the hands of her abuser, and so on can all limit her ability to confront and expose.  But I speak more here to the rest of us.  Certainly to all true pastors.  John the Baptist saw corruption and the abuse of power in King Herod, and John did not shirk from his duty:  “It is not lawful for you to have her.”  Off to prison he went and ultimately, off came his head.

Confronting abuse is costly, and one reason it is costly is because abuse concerns power and control.  Abusers are often in positions of power.  Like Satan, they represent  evil in high places.  Yet we are all called, as God’s people, to speak God’s truth no matter what the cost.  To remain silent about the infection of abuse that exists throughout the church today is to refuse to confess Jesus Christ before men.  And that has far more serious and eternal consequences than having your head lopped off.

9 Comments

  1. I believe my previous pastor’s wife is abused. He abused me for sure- she would spend 3 days at a time in bed with migraines-and this happened often. She once said that a wife should not even correct her husband’s grammar! I cannot imagine how much pressure he puts on her and their kids to be perfect -he certainly put a lot on me.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, Jodi, it is very likely that was indeed the case. Very sad. I hope that lady comes to a knowledge of what is really happening to her.

  2. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog and commented:
    Confrontation is not easy but when it is necessary, it must be done.

  3. This was very encouraging, Jeff, thank you. I was nodding my head all through your post. In my reading around the net, I see an awful lot of articles (TGC, for example) regarding gossip, slander, how anything negative is corrupt speech, how negative facts are automatically slander and how one should never speak an ill word against one’s pastor as that is a “sin of special seriousness” and so on.

    Also you have membership covenants to sign if you want to become a member, and in these covenants is the promise to not be divisive, or gossip, and submit to your elders. I don’t know. It’s all very scary to me. I think churches are not a safe place to be for the most part, unless one investigates very, very carefully, and I wonder if most people do that.

  4. Jeff Crippen

    Diane- thank you. Yes, for example our church has a members covenant. We do expect one another to live godly lives, to gather together faithfully on thr Lords day and so on. We commit to one another in these ways which are biblical. But as is always the case, we must be sure we apply such covenants biblically as Christ would. And there is no question that such tools can be perverted to abuse by evil people, just as Scripture can. You are right. We must discern patiently and biblically and hold our leaders accountable as well. Thank you.

  5. Anonymous

    Didn’t know exactly where to put this information, but was so excited to hear it today, that I just needed to post it somewhere.

    I have a friend who has dealt with abuse for many, many years, but did not wish to divorce her husband. She has sought aid from pastors everywhere, for a multitude of years, only to be left empty and alone. This week, that all changed. She has a new pastor at her Church and she went to visit him about the abuse, after leaving her husband again. He drew up a little “agreement” for her husband to sign. It said that if he ever abused her again, in any way whatsoever, that he (the husband) would sign the deed for the house over to his wife, move out, get his own place, pay for all her costs of living, and remain separated from her as long as it took for her to decide whether to divorce him or not! When the pastor was done with her husband, he signed the agreement. My friend had left her husband several times in the past, which meant having to leave her home and life as she knew it. The pastor said that it was high time that the abuser left and that he was having him sign that “agreement”, so that his wife/victim, never had to leave her home again!

    I think word of this should get around and this pastor should give lessons to all the other pastors out there, about how to handle victims of abuse and their abusers.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Anon- I can understand why you were excited to hear this report. It is soooo unusual to find a pastor who will believe the victim AND take action. That is the good news and we thank you for sharing it.

      On the other hand, I can see some things here that in my opinion are flawed. 1) The abuser has been abusing her for many years. Abusers don’t change. That is my foundational motto in dealing with them. If one surprises me someday by a miraculous, regenerating work of the Spirit of Christ, I will be more pleased than anyone. But this man has not changed and the likelihood of him ceasing the abuse is just right at zero. 2) The Law of God, when applied to an unregenerate person, (Romans 6-8) only serves to empower sin. What has happened in this case is that law has been applied to an unregenerate man and thus I suspect these requirements are going to incite sin in him all the more. 3) There is no legal binding power to this agreement. What if the abuser breaks it, which he will? What is going to require him that he abide by the consequences? 4) So, in the end, I see in this case just another step in “hoping” that “this time” the abuser is going to repent and change. It really is just putting off the inevitable. I realize that there may be circumstances I do not know about that are making this lady not divorce this man, but all else being equal, leaving him and divorcing him are the real long-term solution.

      This is all my opinion of course, and I don’t want to “rain on your parade” of being excited that at least this pastor heard the victim and believed her. For that we should be thankful. I just think that it is dreaming if they think that this contract is going to solve the problem.

      • Anonymous

        Okay, I feel some raindrops, but that’s okay. I was really only excited that she had finally taken some steps of action and that the pastor had actually been of at least encouragement to her, after all the help she has sought.

        I also see tons of wisdom in what you say here and yes, the agreement would not be legally binding. I think she felt she had been given some power, however it may be extremely painful when she finds out she has none through the “agreement”, but I am hopeful that she will follow through anyway and make him leave. As for the divorce, she just does not believe that God permits divorce. She believes that she cannot judge his salvation or lack there of, so the “leaving” verses in 1 Corinthians she cannot apply to herself. Too bad, no pastor will counsel her this way, although this pastor did ask her whether she believed her husband was a Christian or not.

        Thank you for your insight here.

      • Like Jeff, I can see that this agreement is not legally enforceable, but like Anon and her friend. I can see that it gave the victim a lot of validation: it gave a clear message that this pastor believes the woman and he sees her husband as an abuser. The positive moral force of the agreement probably outweighs its lack of legal force. Vindication is a priceless jewel for the abuse victim. When she feels vindicated, a victim will often feel sufficiently empowered to take a radical stand for her own safety and future well-being.

        Dear Anon, please tell your friend about my book, it may set her free from the false belief that she cannot divorce her abuser. And you could suggest to her that she read the posts on this blog that address the question of whether we can treat an abuser as an unbeliever.
        Remember, the important term is “treat as”. Treating a person as an unbeliever is a functional judgment; we are not saying we know the very core of his heart as God does. We are only saying that we have seen his conduct and it is such that we must treat him as an unbeliever. (1 Cor. 5:11 and Matthew 18:15-17)

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