A Cry For Justice

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

What Does God’s Wisdom Look Like in Handling Abuse Cases?

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13-17)

Let me propose to you that the Apostle James is hitting the nail smack on the head here as we consider what he says and apply it to how we see abusers and abuse victims being handled or “mis-handled” in the church. What do we see very widely and even typically in the reports we receive about how local pastors and churches respond to the evil of abuse in the pews? I say that James describes it here: “disorder and every vile practice.” Right? Witness after witness has testified to all of us that this was their experience when they called on the church to help defend them against their abuser. Now, what does James tell us is at the root of this “disorder and every vile practice”? What is the evil root that is producing this bad fruit of demeaning, disregarding, minimizing victims while enabling and allying with the evil abuser? James says it: “…bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, jealousy, SELFISH AMBITION (he repeats that one).” And the source of this evil root? Earthly, unspiritual, demonic “wisdom.” Scary, huh?

Think about it. What does that say about so many local churches and “ministries” claiming to be serving Christ? If you want to know the real nature and spirit of someone or something that professes to be “Christian,” consider how they handle abusers, abuse victims, and evil that creeps in among them. In contrast, James says that where God’s Spirit truly is leading and imparting God’s true wisdom, the result will be, “purity of doctrine, peace, gentleness, rationality, mercy overflowing, good fruits, IMPARTIALITY (of judgment) and sincerity.” And if you want to know if this is the spirit of a place, once more I suggest that you find out how they respond to and deal with evil that comes along looking to creep in and deceive and make people captives.

Abuse in churches is widespread because abusers in churches are widespread. They are tolerated and even exalted (which is what they are after) while gross injustice is dealt to their victims. James is telling us plainly here that the problem is that earthly, unspiritual, and demonic “wisdom” is what energizes and directs such a place. And a church like that opened the door wide to that demon when they became arrogant, self-exalting, and selfishly ambitious. They quenched the Holy Spirit, He departed, and the evil one sent a legion of his spirits to move in.

16 Comments

  1. Trying To Understand

    Hi Pastor Jeff,
    First, I love your writing and sermon series on abuse…have listened to all twenty some of them..some of them more than once. They helped me stay alive when my now ex husband was torturing me emotionally in all sorts of ways before finally divorcing me.
    I just want to say that I have an ongoing inner conflict with the whole idea that because abuse is an area that commonly trips up churches, especially conservative ones, that this means they have accepted demonic wisdom or have otherwise become evil or heretical churches. Could you write about churches that seem exceedingly Christlike in every other way besides how they handle abuse?

    In my case, my husband was telling all sorts of lies about me to our pastors, and he video taped me after he had provoked me to a crisis to show them how disrespectful I was. It seems to me that they would be confused about what was really going on. A male member of my own family who obviously loves the lord did not know what he could do about my situation. After all, it took me years to sort out that I was being abused due to the subtlety of the abuser, so shouldn’t it take even longer for anyone outside the marriage who doesn’t know you or your spouse well enough to know who is lying and who isn’t? Would really love to hear your response to my dilemma. Thanks and God bless all of you at ACFJ!

    [Eds: screen name and a few details in comment changed for identity safety]

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Trying to Understand – I think that fundamentally, here is the difference that we see between churches who are genuine churches, who truly know Christ and those who are dominated by evil. The difference is, are they teachable or not? Are they selfishly ambitious, or humble? Is their primary purpose in rendering injustice to victims one of self-preservation of their own “turf”, or is it temporary naivete? Yes, we recognize that Christians and pastors can be ignorant of the nature and mentality and tactics of abuse (most are). But at some point, Christ is going to open their eyes. But here is our experience: so many, if not most, church leaders and churches turn a blind eye to evil. Not just to abuse, but to evil in general.

      You ask about the case of a church which would be godly in all other areas, except in regard to abuse. I am not sure that such a church exists. Does a church biblically deal with evil in its midst that expresses itself in other forms? If so, perhaps they are simply naive to abuse. But what we have found is that the churches who are rendering injustice to abuse victims are also hesitant to truly deal with evil of ANY kind. A church, for example, that has a patriarchal notion of men and women and marriage is certainly going to be applying that same notion in other areas as well.

      Churches today are largely ruled by man’s traditions being paraded as God’s Word. And that is what James is calling “wisdom” that is earthly, unspiritual, from below, and demonic. And another thing we find with such churches is that those in leadership in particular simply are closed to hearing truth about abuse. They exalt marriage to the level of an idol and they will hear of nothing else.

      Finally, regarding the tactics of your husband working to dupe the pastors. I can tell you that though it took me years to come to a really clear understanding of evil and of abuse, I can assure you that I would know something was just not right with any husband who came to me running down his wife and even showing me a video he took of her being “disrespectful.” I have to say that there are some things that we cannot afford to keep getting wrong and that means that if a man is going to shepherd Christ’s flock, then he must have Christ’s wisdom. He must be able to discern truth from error, righteousness from unrighteousness. For myself, I would not cut those pastors you had to deal with too much slack. And by the way, have they ever come to you and apologized for the injustice they rendered to you? Genuinely? Have they shown fruits of that wrongdoing by pursuing further training in the nature of abuse? Or is their apology just talk? These are the things to watch for.

      Thank you very much for your encouragement

    • Still Reforming

      Trying to Understand,

      I am sympathetic (even empathetic) to you in your situation because I lived that too. For years I defended other individuals in my life before defending myself. That is, I truly understood why my pastor and my mother and anyone else not under our roof could not discern the evil with which I was living. And I think – at least for me – I didn’t understand or acknowledge that it truly was evil. I kept hoping and praying for my abuser. For two decades.

      Periodically I would voice my concerns about incidents and lies and things that didn’t make sense under my roof. I told my pastor or friends or church members, and all were supportive of me, but mostly by giving me Scripture related to how I needed to forgive or how to keep my mouth shut (from Psalms) or things that basically never helped. Nothing changed. Well, except to get worse.

      And for me it took finally speaking up to authorities who could do something about it (authorities outside of the church, sad to say). That was really, really hard. The hardest thing I’d done. I still remember the day I cried telling my pastor on the phone that I felt like I was ripping my family apart. In hindsight, it wasn’t me, but the abuse that tore my family apart. And truth be told, my family never was together to tear apart. There was no marriage except for on paper. That’s taken me a long time to learn, and I’m still learning.

      I just want to reach out to you to support you and let you know I’m praying for you.

  2. Still Reforming

    Timely post. My stbx just this past week told my attorney that I was asked to leave our church by my (former) pastor and the reason my stbx stated was a lie. And yet he said it, the allegation was sent to me, and I forwarded it onto that pastor, suggesting that he has a responsibility to know the evil that sits in his pews. I explained that my husband has absolutely no qualms about lying. None whatsoever. And because this particular lie involved our pastor (and not the first lie to do so), I thought it right to let the pastor know. Have I heard anything back from the pastor? Not. one. word.

    (Eds. note: comment was edited of identifying information)

    • there are none so blind as those who will not see

    • Still Scared but you can call me Cindy

      My lawyer believed me that my ex “changed history”, lying doesn’t even cut it, he completely changes it in his mind. My lawyer believed that my ex would do that to ME, but was completely stunned and blown away when he ( my ex) did it to my lawyer, even with a witness present. Even people that get it, don’t think it is a pervasive behavior.

      • Still Reforming

        Cindy,

        Isn’t that amazing? I’m still taken aback by testimonies like that – that your attorney would be incredulous that someone who lies could actually lie to him (or her)! That happened to me too, but with my mother. She didn’t really think my stbx wasn’t such a bad guy until he lied to her and was caught in it. I’m very thankful that she went through that because it only took one time with her, and she was done with him. It took my mother all of five minutes learning the truth to be done with him. It took me more than two decades.

      • yep. re-writing history — the brashness with which abusers do it can be mind boggling!

  3. Anonymous

    God’s word is amazing isn’t it? When you type the word envy into your Bible search you find example after hardcore example of God’s understanding of, thoughts on and the consequences of, living ones life with greed and envy at the helm.

  4. Babylove

    my experience with the church left me devastated!!! I was shell shocked traumatized and in deep emotional turmoil and the pastor sided with my abuser and even exalted him in front of me; to say the least I felt abandoned and so alone. the pastor asked me “what does he say before he hits you”…I then knew he had no understanding of abuse and when I tried to educate him, he had no interest in learning and said I needed to repent of my lies and evil ways. it has been almost 2 yrs since I have left my abuse and begun to heal; however, trusting Christians and church leadership is proving a difficult process. pls pray for me

    • Oh Kandyce! ((((hugs)))) the way that pastor treated you was awful!

      I shall pray.

    • StandsWithAFist

      Kandyce: your story sent chills up my spine. The pastor asking for salacious details reminded me of a common occurrence in patriocentric movements. It is common in both cults and churches: the pastor or bishop or counselor [sic] meets with the woman ostensibly to “help”, but then further abuses her by soliciting details of her trauma, which is then held against her while the abuser is never held to account. This is not of God, but of men. God’s heart is also broken for you. You were right to leave that wicked place, you listened to the Holy Spirit while they quenched it! I WILL pray for you. Be safe, dear one. Keep coming back here where it is safe.

  5. Annie

    I’m now using the topic of bullying and abuse as my litmus test of judging whether I can trust someone. Maybe that’s not a fair test but right now I feel like anyone who dismisses the idea that bullying exists or abuse is a problem and that it is wrong deserves to be kept at arm’s length.

    P.S. Kandyce and all who post here I pray for you all.

    • Still Reforming

      Annie,

      I think you’re exercising Godly wisdom, reaffirmed over and over in the Scriptures, using the litmus test as you are. Had I done so earlier with my legal representation, I wouldn’t have to swim so hard upstream with them to get them to advocate for me. I’ll be (almost) as delighted to cut them loose as I am my stbx.

  6. StandsWithAFist

    Not too long ago Ps. Jeff had a post about the “Abuser as Esau-A sobering and Freeing Truth for Victims”. In that post, Ps Jeff clarified how hypocrisy and rebellion naturally lead to idolatry. Idols can be made of anything: marriage, music, church, denominations, etc.

    Idols are man-made, thus have no eyes to see, nor ears to hear, nor noses “to smell the stench of evil or the aroma of righteousness, as can the living and true God.” (Psalm 115) Those who worship them ultimately become like them: dead, reprobate, wooden, hollow, heartless.

    Ps. Jeff wrote “if you have created or are worshipping a false “Christ,” then you are in process of becoming like that false god. You are becoming blind to the glory of Christ and deaf to His Word. When the gospel, when the Word of God is proclaimed to the hypocrite, it eventually becomes the same as preaching to a man-made, dead statue.”

    We become what we worship.

    This has become a type of litmus test for me: is this church worshiping the true Christ? Or a false one? Who or what are they elevating? Can they smell evil? Can I smell the the sweet aroma of worship and righteousness? Who are they most like? Are they more like each other (sinners becoming more selfish, self-absorbed, jealous, indulgent) or, are they becoming more like Christ? Are they humbly admitting their dependence on Him? Or are they self-righteous, tooting their own horn[s], arrogant and proud of their idol?

    Maybe I am being too harsh here, but if a church cannot smell the stench of evil, and be righteously angry about it, then it’s a good bet they have become idolatrous in their worship and will be of little help to the abused. Wisdom may shout in the streets, but the idol has no ears to hear it. (Proverbs 1:20)

    Their idol will look perfect, polished and shiny….and dead.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Stands – you got it. You aren’t being too harsh. And if anything I believe this idolatry is an infection that is throughout the church, with small pockets of light here and there.

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