A Cry For Justice

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

Book Review: The Peacemaker — Peace at Any Cost?

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande is no friend of abuse victims and has real potential to increase their suffering greatly.  This book has been in use for some years now (1991) and we have had reports of it creating havoc in abuse settings.

Sande makes a very common and serious error, quite evident in his 10th chapter which is entitled “Forgive as God Forgave You.”  The central Scripture cited is —

Colossians 3:12-14 ESV (12)  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (13)  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (14)  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Many of our readers are no doubt familiar with distortions of this Scripture, along with its parallel in Ephesians 4:32.  The argument is that if we are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, then surely forgiveness must always include reconciliation of relationship and re-establishment of trust.  The nature of true biblical repentance is not adequately developed by Sande and there is no sufficient discussion of the mentality of abuse and how the deceptive nature of the abuser so often falsifies repentance.  In fact, this book is essentially empty of any acknowledgment of true evil.  The nature and tactics of abuse seem to be foreign to the author’s thinking.  One comes away from this book with the sense that in any conflict or sin, the real bulk of the responsibility for making peace with the one who has offended rests upon the person who has been wronged.  I think that abusers would love this book and that it will provide them with all kinds of pious-sounding arguments to coerce their victim into massive guilt and confusion.

Here is Sande’s standard formula for forgiveness:

“Through forgiveness, God tears down the walls that our sins have erected, and he opens the way for a renewed relationship with him.  This is exactly what we must do if we are to forgive as the Lord forgives us; we must release the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us.  Because we must not hold wrongs against others, not think about them, and not punish others for them, forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

  • I will no longer dwell on this incident.
  • I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
  • I will not talk to others about this incident.
  • I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our relationship.

It will not take our readers long to understand how this rigid and simplistic definition of forgiveness is going to victimize abuse victims terribly.  Tell me, would Sande apply these requirements to a girl whose father had incestuously raped her?  Or to a rape victim?  Would he demand that in all cases of domestic or sexual abuse or in cases of the most heinous crimes against one’s person, the victim must always work toward reconciliation with the evil one?  Sande of course says that the wrongdoer must repent.  But we all know how rare true repentance is.  Sande does not give us that impression but makes repentance sound rather easy.  For example:

“Confirm repentance.  It is difficult to forgive a person who has failed to repent and confess clearly and specifically.  When you find yourself in this situation, it may be wise to explain to the person who wronged you why you are having a difficult time forgiving. [NOTE:  Sande puts the chief burden on the victim in these words]…. If you are having a difficult time forgiving someone, you may need to help them see where their confession has been deficient and encourage them to take repentance more seriously. “

Mr. Sande, I am sorry, but I have to ask you — what fantasyland are you living in?

The Peacemaker will not make peace.  It will further terrorize victims of abuse and serve as an evil weapon in the hands of evil people.

25 Comments

  1. Jim

    I think Sande is wrong but this viewpoint seems to be held by most Christians. Some will allow unconditional forgiveness may take time, even years, but ultimately must be granted. Unconditional forgiveness seems to be closely associated with universalism and Buddhist rather than Biblical, but it makes people preaching it feel very holy, and that’s what’s really important isn’t it?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Jim – Excellent observation. I agree completely. This kind of talk about unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation does indeed speak of an arrogant and self-righteous motivation. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for very similar arrogance in 1 Cor 5.

  2. anon

    I just got a copy of Pursuing Peace by Robert D Jones in the mail. The word “abuse” is not even in the Index. Looks like a good general book on normal marital spats. I cannot waste my time on this book. Sounds like another Appeasement book…. (also with Peacemaker Ministries).

    • I’m with you, Anon! When I browse thru a book like that, the first thing I do is go to the index an see if there is any listing for ‘abuse’, ‘domestic abuse’ or ‘domestic violence’. If there isn’t, I know the book is inadequate and probably dangerous.

    • Jeff Crippen

      I haven’t seen that particular book, but you are correct. Most often the topic of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace-making and so forth is handled very superficially with everything lumped under one single, undefined term: forgiveness. One of the very few places you can find a correct biblical treatment of forgiveness is in the book Mending the Soul by Steven Tracy, the 10th chapter. I just read that section to our entire church yesterday during the morning class time. It presents three categories of forgiveness: 1)Judicial, which can only be effected by God, 2) Psychological, which is something the victim does, and 3) Relational, which involves reconciliation but is only possible and wise in some cases.

      Yes, most Christian books on forgiveness are really only applicable to conflicts between genuine Christians, and the fact is that true Christians should be able to work the thing out themselves anyway!

  3. Thank you for this excellent review. Sande is living on another planet if this is his definition of forgiveness. I think he would feel very differently if he came upon his young daughter being violated.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, it is often the case that one’s theology suddenly changes when the reality of evil comes knocking at one’s own door.

  4. What happened to ” As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” ? Obviously this allows for the possibility that peace cannot be had with some people.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Unless we are willing to go the route of the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day: “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

  5. Hey, I’ve been reading over this site and I have a question. I’m not really sure where to post it so I hope this is alright. My question is this: is it more important to find a church where the Gospel is fully preached but where the leadership is uninformed about abuse and might offer wrong advice OR is it more important to find a church where the Gospel isn’t proclaimed as fully but the leadership understands abuse and supports those who have suffered through it? I’m not trying to be controversial but I really need to understand this. Thanks.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks much, NOS! I believe that where the gospel is accurately understood and preached, all other matters get straightened out as well. And when they don’t, one must question just how well the gospel is embraced. For example, the Pharisees seemed to have all kinds of facts and data from Scripture memorized and categorized. But Christ told them they didn’t even know Him because their understanding of Scripture was so skewed. So it is today. I suggest that any church that continues to add to the suffering of abuse victims, pressing down huge burdens upon them, siding with the evil abuser against the victim, is a church that does not have the gospel right. What this means is that there are probably a whole lot fewer true churches today than we would like to think. Christ’s true people are open to teaching and reproof and correction. They might start off not seeing how they are wrong about issues like abuse and divorce and remarriage, but they are not going to harden themselves in their error. So, your choice is to find a church that gets both areas right, or at least has what appears to be sound doctrine and demonstrates they love Christ’s truth by evidencing a teachable spirit.

  6. Jeff, I have yet to meet a pastor (present company excepted) who had a teachable spirit-especially from a woman. Well, possibly one exception.

    • Jeff Crippen

      They do seem pretty hard to find, don’t they?

  7. Thanks for the reply, Jeff. I understand what you are saying. Sure, it’d be better to find one that does both. What I need to know though is, if there is only one option, the Gospel is preached fully or the church is sensitive to abuse but is a little bit more man-centered in its teachings, which should I go for? I have talked with pastors from both ilks and each leans one way and not the other. What do I do? I really am depending on your advice here as I have no one else to ask. Thank you.

    • Jeff Crippen

      If you are looking at just two churches and there are no other possible options for you, I would choose the one that is the most doctrinally sound. However, Bible doctrine is not just facts printed on a page. It is the living Word of God that the Spirit takes and brings to us like a two-edged sword to show us our need and to renew our minds. If a church has an absolutely sound confession of faith in its constitution and if it teaches absolutely accurate data, but fails to bring that truth to bear upon life, then it really is not doctrinally sound. So, for instance, as I am a reformed Baptist, I would first look for a reformed Baptist church. But if that church really ends up in practice oppressing the weak and abused through its mis or non-application of truth, then I am going to go looking for a church where real Christians are present even if its doctrinal statement is something I don’t agree with entirely. I know, for example, of an abuse victim who is reformed in her theology, but whose reformed church treated her horridly and protected her abuser. She ended up going to a charismatic church, which theology she does not agree with in many points, but she told me this – “I can say this about those people in that church, they know how to love one another.” So which choice is best? Which of your two scenarios is actually the most doctrinally sound? It could be either. The one that ends up listening to God’s Word and growing more and more in agreement with it and actually loving one another with the love of Christ is the church that you want to be in.

  8. Jeff Crippen

    I am adding this comment from Desley, one of our readers, who commented on a later article about nouthetic counseling. The comment applies to this article as well. Here is is:

    You said: “I believed that God only created me to be used and abused by my husband and I went into a deep depression.”

    Boy, do I resonate with that! I used to ask God why my husband’s sexual satisfaction was more important to Him than my psychological health, since I had to give in to sex with a man who constantly betrayed and hurt me – and not only that, but I was commanded by God to like it too! It felt like God-sanctioned rape for the benefit (and ego) of my husband.

    My church is starting an eight-week bible study from Peacemaker Ministries called “Resolving Everyday Conflict,” which seems to maintain that the root of all conflict in relationships, particularly in marriage relationships, is your own sin (or ill desires). It teaches you to assume a self-sacrificial disposition in order to be a peacemaker. I think this is true sometimes, but to assert that selfishness is the root of all relational conflict is certainly a grandiose claim. I haven’t yet been able to access Ken Sande’s (the President of Peacemaker Ministries) message on domestic abuse, “Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Solving Conflict and Resolving Everyday Conflict,” to get a feel for where they stand when it comes to dealing with domestic abuse and if they make a clear distinction between “every day conflict” and domestic abuse. For this reason I am afraid I have decided to opt out, because, although it might be good teaching in all other scenarios, I am too vulnerable right now to expose myself to indoctrination again which maintains that I will be empowered by God to sacrifice myself on the altar of marital permanence in an abuse situation. Been there, done that, failed

  9. Laura M

    I left a one star review on Amazon for this book. At the time that my pastor wanted me to purchase it for the mediation that he sent me to with my abusive husband, I read the reviews and they were all favorable, If I knew the truth about how terrible it is for people in abusive situations, I would not have gone to the counseling at all. If anyone else has something to say about how damaging it is for people in domestic violence, I think it would be beneficial to leave an appripriate star rating.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Good job, Laura. Yes, this is a really, really harmful book because it fails to truly understand evil. I wouldn’t use the book in any kind of case at all.

  10. You are quite right that the book can be extremely harmful. I wrote a lengthy set of posts on the experiences I went through (along with a number of others) that were driven by Sande’s program and those who support it.

    Note from Barb: I have put links here for each article in Timothy’s series about Peacemakers Ministry and how it impacted his experience of being in an abusive church.
    The Danger of Peacemakers
    Church Abuse and Trust
    Twisting Scripture
    Propaganda
    Another Perspective
    The Aftermath of Abuse
    Why Christians Must Act
    OFB: The Hidden Dangers of Peacemaker

    • Thanks Timothy. Some of our readers will be very interested in your story.

      • Thanks — I hope it is helpful to somebody. Thank you for pulling in all of the links. I’m glad to see your site speaking out about some of the problems in the book. The ugly side of Sande’s program is not spoken of nearly enough.

      • Timothy, you might be interested to know that Peacemakers have stated that the have no policy on domestic abuse. So when a victim of domestic abuse is forced to go to Peacemaker mediation/conciliation with their abusive spouse, Peacemakers staff have no policy that would enable them to recognise and identify that it is an abusive marriage, and no policy or protocol about how to respond to an abusive marriage. So they know nothing about how to prioritize the safety of the victim, how to recognise and resist the abuser’s invitations to collude with him (or her, in the case of the abuser being the wife) and no idea that neutrality is not the right approach in domestic abuse cases. This is a grave and very dangerous situation for victims of domestic abuse.

        And when churches push/coerce victims of abuse into Peacemaker conciliation, then the victim is likely to be seriously harmed and the abuser is likely to gain more allies in his covert, cunning and methodical abuse tactics whereby he continues to shred his victim’s confidence and reputation.

    • thepersistentwidow

      Timothy, Thanks for the links to your articles. You are right-on with your critique of Peacemakers as it is a very dangerous and abusive movement. I see now that their services are an appendix to the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order — along with the Peacemaker commitment contracts. Good work bringing light on this evil.

  11. Jenn

    This is straight from the book:
    One of the most difficult offenses to address is one that involves an abuse of power or authority, such as physical or sexual abuse. In rare situations, a victim of abuse may have gained sufficient strength to go and talk directly to his or her abuser. In most situations, however, it is not wise or constructive for a victim to talk privately with the abuser. Many abusers are very adept at manipulation and intimidation, and they will use the conversation as an opportunity for further abuse. Therefore, it is usually best to involve others in the confrontation process.

    If the abuser is a Christian, his church has a responsibility to confront his sin, promote genuine repentance and confession, support counseling, and require him to submit to necessary legal consequences. This involvement can and should be carried out in cooperation with actions that civil authorities must take to deal with the abuse.

    At the same time, the church should be ministering lovingly and diligently to the victim of abuse. This calls for compassion and understanding, acknowledging any role the church may have played in failing to properly protect the victim, providing needed counseling, and changing policies and practices to prevent similar abuse in the future.” (The Peacemaker, pp. 156-157)

    • Jeff Crippen

      Jenn- It all sounds so good and right on, right? But it isn’t. Notice what the ultimate goal is of “The Peacemaker” – PEACE. RECONCILIATION. Save the marriage. That is why the quote gives us all this talk about promoting genuine repentance, support getting him into counseling (or the victim into counseling with him!) and so on. This is all nonsense and it will only promote the suffering of the victim. Think about it. WE are going to promote genuine repentance? Really? WE are? The church is? Real repentance is a work of the Holy Spirit alone. All that WE would do is to enable him to exercise still another false repentance which the victim will then be pressured to accept. Notice the elephant in the room in the quote. Namely, DIVORCE. Where is the mention of the victim’s right to divorce the wicked one? It isn’t there. Why? Because The Peacemaker naively insists that there will and must be peace at any cost.

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