A Cry For Justice

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

A Radical New Way of Christian Marriage Counseling

“Maybe we have had our heads screwed on exactly backwards on this!”

You’ve heard that statement or used it yourself before I bet when you came to some new realization that your thinking on a subject was 180 degrees out of whack, right? Well, I am suggesting here, no, I am saying very confidently here that the conservative evangelical church has largely had its head screwed on backwards when it comes to marriage counseling, pre-marriage counseling, and related issues. As a result, just like when you go to fire a rifle but you’ve got the barrel pointed at YOU instead of the target, much of the “Christian” counseling that has been done has been destructive and has actually promoted marriage failure. Story after documented story told to us by abuse victims proves this and that doesn’t even include the myriad numbers of Christian marriages out there that do not involve an abuser-type spouse but are patterned after the joy-killing, personhood-dissolving teachings that have been laid on us for decades now.

What have Christian organisations been teaching about marriage?

What has been standard teaching about marriage? What has the conservative church and Christian ministries, organizations, and so on have been telling people who are engaged to be married, to husbands and wives, to… well, really to everyone in the church? What have we been telling people who come to us for marriage counseling? What kind of an atmosphere and culture has all of this produced in local churches? I will answer those questions.

1.   As conservative Bible-believing Christians, we have been teaching people that the husband is “in charge” and the wife’s job is to “submit.” And by “submit,” we mean something that the Bible does not, namely, “do what he says.” This has been the real emphasis. Oh sure, there is the caveat (it has to be said because Scripture says it) that the husband must love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. But then we get back to this business of the wife needing to do what her husband says, and if she does then all will be well. The husband is told the same thing about how he needs to run the show.

2.   The result of this has been the creation of an atmosphere in the home and in the church that assumes that women are inferior to men.  “Oh, no, no, no!” I can hear these people say, “You are wrong. We strongly emphasize that men and women are equal before God.” But the fact is, that is not what the result of all this has been. Women are in general seen to be inferior in their very makeup and personhood to men. Those who deny this need to look not at their words about these issues, but to take a long hard look into their minds, examine their real attitudes, and take a look at their actual deeds in these matters.

And one grievous result of this is the widespread prevalence of his plague in the church called abuse. Let me propose a theory that is based on this fact:

The divorce rate among conservative Christians is higher than we would desire or expect. Or perhaps we could put it this way — the joy and fulfilment that Christian marriage is supposed to provide is (if we will be honest and admit it) eluding many, many Christian marriages. Oh yes, happy faces are put on, but behind closed doors, what do we find?

I propose that the standard company line in the conservative church that is taught about marriage, divorce, husbands and wives, is in fact what is fueling this bondage that characterizes so many marriages. And abusers? Well, of course they are going to take this kind of teaching and counseling and run with it to the land of entitlement and justification.

If there were not so many constraints on victims of abuse that prevent them from leaving, I maintain that the divorce rate among Christians would be even higher than it is.

What then is the remedy?

The remedy is to send to the garbage the widely embraced company line about marriage that we have been taught and which we have been teaching, and do a complete reboot. Teach the truth that,

1.   God does sanction divorce for abuse, and that includes psychological and emotional abuse (coercive control).

2.  The husband is not superior to the wife and in fact the emphasis of Scripture is that he is to nourish, love, protect, and care for his wife (that is what a “head” does).

3.  Women are equal in Christ before God and are called to submit to their husband’s love.

4.  Any notion that makes things like authority, obedience to authority and so forth the EMPHASIS of what the Bible supposedly teaches about marriage must be jettisoned entirely.

And as I have written elsewhere recently, take those unhelpful, even foolish labels of “complementarian” and “egalitarian” and throw them in the trash as well.
Q. “Jeff, what then do you believe about marriage and husbands and wives?”
A.  “I believe Ephesians five.”
Q. “No, I am asking you if you are a complementarian or an egalitarian!”
A. “I am an Ephesians five-arian. Take your labels and go now.”

The church and “Christian” counseling ministries have been, I say again, harming marriage, promoting joylessness in marriage, fueling the evil desires of wicked men (and sometimes wicked women) who lust for power and control, and generally promoting the very divorce they claim they are out to prevent.

45 Comments

  1. joepote01

    Recent studies ( http://paa2011.princeton.edu/papers/111705 ) indicate that states (and even counties) within the U.S. with a strong traditional protestant culture have a higher per capita incidence of divorce than their neighboring counties and states. I can’t help but wonder if that doesn’t correlate directly to poor theology and overemphasis on prohibiting divorce combined with overemphasis on male headship. I would like to see a comparable study showing per capita incidence of domestic abuse with similar parameters.

    When we forsake pursuing God’s heart and lean, instead, on rigidly wooden legalistic traditions, bad things happen.

    Good post, Jeff!

  2. Lea

    “4. Any notion that makes things like authority, obedience to authority and so forth the EMPHASIS of what the Bible supposedly teaches about marriage must be jettisoned entirely.”

    Yes! I find this ‘submit to my authority’ thing incredibly creepy. Nobody is forced to attend church. I didn’t for a long time. Telling women they are lesser is not going to bring them in. Honestly, I wish women would strike in some of these hyper ‘headship’ type churches. See how long they can go without them…

    Also, agree on the ‘comp/egal’ labels. Your marriage doesn’t need a label! Just live it.

    And while I’m on the subject, the word ‘complementarian’ is terribly inelegant. Ugly.

  3. bright sunshinin' day

    Yes, super post, Jeff. The marriage remedies you suggest (see below) are gleaned from Scripture. One doesn’t need a seminary or counseling degree to understand these simple, pure truths which can revitalize marriages if heeded. You said:

    1. God does sanction divorce for abuse, and that includes psychological and emotional abuse (coercive control).

    2. The husband is not superior to the wife and in fact the emphasis of Scripture is that he is to nourish, love, protect, and care for his wife (that is what a “head” does).

    3. Women are equal in Christ before God and are called to submit to their husband’s love.

    4. Any notion that makes things like authority, obedience to authority and so forth the EMPHASIS of what the Bible supposedly teaches about marriage must be jettisoned entirely.

  4. Anonymous

    From the psychopath,

    Careful now there Jeff, I hear some shackles being unlocked and this means that the spirit of discernment might get loose and then how will I be able to enforce my insanity on others? If the truth actually starts to fly and the Holy Spirit is no longer stifled in the hearts of true Christians and they are finally able to be productive instead of running around in circles trying to keep up will all my lies, how will I feel superior and justify myself? If this gets out and genuine believers start to realize that the bible says that women are NOT inferior and that I, as the husband, am NOT TO BE WORSHIPED, what good are these whores to me?! We had a deal–me and my father the devil! That I would SAY I was a Christian and memorize some scripture and as a result I would be provided with naïve, unsuspecting women to abuse and destroy. And the brats (children) that resulted would give me years of fun too by manipulating them and bad-mouthing their mother and keeping them in my life to torture forever!

    What happens if people who love the Lord stop marrying my kind or divorce my type, and that the bible proves that this is not only good but RIGHT to do (to leave a child of the devil) and then, (YOUR) God forbid, the younger generation doesn’t even consider me as a mate? What if they marry their true brethren and produce Godly offspring and this whole thing snowballs and actually reaches others? Seriously dude, this cannot happen! I COUNT on people buying the lie that we are all born as a blank slate and we are all sinners even if you’re saved and that with enough prayer I can be lead to repentance. If God’s children wake up to the truth and stop playing my games, how can I keep from being bored?! My destination is Hell so my time here on earth is the only time I’ll have access to others to torture, in order to get a reaction. You should feel sorry for me and continue to appease me and play my games! After all, it’s your fault that I am the way I am because you Christians didn’t worship me! Is that too much to ask for?! To worship the man as the unquestionable head and as a god?

    I know what I’ll do! I’ll say that I AGREE with you, but not on every point. This will open the door to debate so that I can insert doubt and keep the topic open for discussion. I will then use examples that I’ve made up or twisted from the truth and show how this teaching has actually harmed Godly people. I’ll take any hint of doubt and run with it, capitalizing on the knowledge that there are still many out there who buy the lie and really believe it to be truth. If I nip this thing in the bud right now, I’ll have a chance to continue on in my reign of terror and continue to be worshiped–the evil one is on my side after all! Good luck my enemy–may the best (or most manipulative) man win!

    • ooooooh whooooooo! [shiver]

      well done, Anonymous. You know the mind and script of the enemy well!

    • keeningforthedawn

      Anonymous, this is fabulous. What an articulate way to expose the mindset of a self-appointed idol.

  5. Misti

    One thing that’s been bothering me is that the “male headship” setup—at least the way I’ve witnessed it practiced and the way I myself experienced it in a reformed presbyterian household—ends up idolizing husbands and putting the wives in the position of slave concubine even when it isn’t practiced by abusers.

    And then the setup outright encourages and promotes abuse, because wives get applauded for finding sneaky ways to rescue their husbands from themselves, and husbands are applauded for keeping their families under strict control. A woman who dares leave her abusive husband (or parents) is automatically painted as rebellious and in need of “reconciliation” with her abuser(s), even if she points out that there has been no repentance.

    So it’s redefining “service” so their dictatorship counts, puts man in the place of God, puts women in the place of slaves, and makes an idol of unquestioning obedience.

    If you dare point out how Pharisaical that is to anyone in that environment, they’ll necessarily believe you ignorant and question your salvation. Same if you aren’t regularly attending the “right” kind of church (even if you’re known to have health issues that mean even exposure to scented soaps can leave you ill for days or put you in the hospital).

    I’ve been starting to wonder lately… Might not such abusive cliques qualify as cults?

    I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate believers in reformed presbyterianism. There are. But the specific circles I was in outright relied on having the “right” beliefs and definitions, to the point that actual rules of the church would be quietly ignored, violated, or overridden as convenient for those in power. And I’m not the only person I know who fled them.

    • MarkQ

      Hi Misti,

      I suffered abuse in a reformed presbyterian church. As you said, it is deeply ingrained in the church culture. Much of the spiritual abuse literature is talking about abuse by a narcissistic figurehead – one person who manipulates and abuses those around him and maintains control in the church. But, what I found more damaging is the form of abuse we experienced – the general culture of superiority and inferiority. When I was a kid, my parents wanted a “peaceful” house, so we were spanked whenever the peace was broken, whether we were the attacker or the defender. So, “justice” didn’t matter, only peace. This was reinforced by the reformed preaching, where God desires our obedience, not our happiness. As you said, you were given glowing examples of all these people who suffered shamefully under their husband’s abuse and then “won” their husbands to Christ, as if that was the requirement for godly women. Women (and men) who filed for divorce were displeasing God for that reason as well.

      So, I was a member in two churches for a long time. The first church had those beliefs, but then harbored an abusive elder. The other elders had to choose between biting the sheep and taking down the wolf, so they paid lip service to “dealing with the matter” when directly questioned in private, but never mentioned this in public. However, when that elder battered sheep, the other elders circled around and demanded their submission to his abuse, because, after all, he was an elder. The second church had, in my opinion, very godly leaders who loved their sheep. However, they were steeped in the reformed presbyterian teaching that leaders are somehow gifted to be superior in all ways. So, when I dared to question some of their theology, they immediately began to circle the wagons and subtly defame me in front of the congregation. They wouldn’t confront me openly, but they would take me to the side where everyone could see, and start lecturing me. I believe this was for the purpose of telling the congregation it wasn’t okay to question the leaders, and that I was specifically someone they should not listen to.

      When I talk with people from this background about spiritual abuse, there seem to be three general responses. People who never realize they’ve been abused seem to think I’m receiving godly correction for my insubordination. People who have seen or experienced an occurrence of abuse seem to say that yes, it was abusive, but that’s MY church, and it’s not something general to reformed presbyterian churches. Then there are the people who suffered greatly or have seen others suffer. They get it, but they don’t want to rock the boat and they don’t want to leave because of family and friends or some doctrine or practice that they hold dear.

  6. Kay

    Yes, yes, yes! The erroneous teaching of wifely submission kept me as well as my husband in bondage for more than twenty-five years! The more I submitted, the more it enabled my husband’s sin. Thankfully, the Lord set me free from this doctrine, and in the process, because I have been free to set boundaries and confront my husband’s selfish and abusive behaviors (instead of trying to submit more in order to make my husband love me properly), God is bringing healing and freedom to my husband’s life.

    • E

      Yes! This is what we have found! Also, the patriarchal mentality leads good men who are not alpha male controllers to feel like failures! And their women are frustrated by unmet false expectations for the husbands to be “more of a leader,” setting the relationship up for failure.

  7. cindy burrell

    An extraordinary post, Pastor Jeff. So wonderfully radical – kind of like something Jesus would say….

    I remember well attempting to reason with my abusive husband when he was not interested in another view. He would point a finger in my face and shout, “You will submit to me!” And in my churchified role, I would find myself immediately silenced, bullied into accommodating his will yet bound to a teaching that my submission would ultimately yield a softening of his hardened heart and a humbling on his part when we suffered from his poor decision-making. Instead, he only became more empowered and entitled. Twenty years later our marriage and family were in shambles.

    The contemporary church would still, I fear, assert that I did it right and simply failed to wait for my husband to “get it.” But there is no love in that model, only oppression.

    • healinginhim

      Cindy — You really nailed it as to how I’ve been made to feel. I get comments like “wait on the Lord” … hinting that I must wait for my husband to “get it”. Well, he no longer wants to be my husband and doesn’t openly profess to be a Christian, now, either. This very unassuming man takes care of himself.
      Even the ‘c’hurch seems comfortable with the situation because it let’s them off the hook of asking him why he is treating me this way? They claim that they can’t touch him because he doesn’t go to their ‘c’hurch ….hmmm, he used to!

    • standsfortruth

      Thank you for these validating posts.
      Yes the church is walking in blindness to all the collateral damage that happens to the wife and family when they impose their twisted doctrine of women submission.
      I too am a living testimony and witness of children who once carried so much promise, becoming victims to the ploys of my abuser, told to wait it out by the church only to have the children’s motivation and potential in life compromised and diminished.

      And all this for following a doctrine of the church that never had any truth or solid foundation to begin with.
      Jesus compared the house that was built on the solid foundation of HIS teachings, against the house that was built on the sand (man’s teachings) and we would do well to see that much of what the church is teaching is built on the sand.

    • Mandy

      I understand your comment. Been there, done that, my sister.

  8. healinginhim

    Another excellent post, Pastor Crippen.

  9. grace551

    Totally agree with healinginhim. I love this ministry so much, and this website. You are like a healing oasis.

  10. Anonymous

    Misti and Kay–What you addressed brought to mind a review of a book that I’d read about how this type of teaching destroyed a marriage. Your points are so true and will help those just coming out of the fog. THIS IS NOT A RECOMMENDATION FOR THIS BOOK, in case there was any doubt! Here’s the review:

    “A True Story….
    ByAmazon Customeron June 4, 2013

    Once upon a time, there was a young girl, let’s call her HC, who grew up in an abusive household. HC’s home was different from the sterotypical abusive home, because the abuser was her mother. HC witnessed her mother punch, kick, slap, and scream at her father over and over again, for almost twenty years.

    The greatest desire of HC’s heart was to be a good, godly wife, and love a godly husband, but she had no idea how to do it. HC was terrified when she realized she didn’t know how to do basic home-making tasks, or deal with regular, non-abusive human conflict and anger. She felt odd and out-of-place in social gatherings, and tried to make up for it by being the life of the party, by being constantly encouraging, and by loving others unconditionally.

    However, HC was a fantastic writer and musician. She didn’t know it at the time, because her parents pushed her towards law or medicine, and insisted that her writing and music was a waste of her time–or even selfish. HC married a fellow musician and teacher, had a couple of kids, and HC’s creative skills were constantly put to good use at her church.

    Then one day, after completing a long, intense, emotionally draining creative project, one of HC’s friends gave her this book. HC’s friend said that it saved her marriage, and that without this book, she probably wouldn’t be married today. Since HC was emotionally vulnerable, trusted her friend, and was always looking to improve her own marriage, she agreed.

    The introduction had her hooked. Ms. Pearl’s nurturing voice called to HC’s most tender desires: she understood that some of us didn’t have mothers to teach us how to be good wives and mothers ourselves. She wanted to wrap her motherly arms around us, guide us into godly womanhood, and help us fulfill our biblical calling.

    If HC had only spoken to her husband or her pastor about what she was reading, she could have avoided the pain that later came. She didn’t. The truth is that HC was ashamed that she didn’t know enough about femininity and womanhood, and that she was reading book after book to help her “figure it all out.” She absorbed the pages of the book without guidance or input from outside sources.

    At first, things seemed to be fine. Since HC wasn’t spending any more time writing or making music, her household was cleaner, her kids and husband got all of her attention, and all of the decisions were made by only one person–HC’s husband. Since HC no longer was supposed to be devoting time to female friendships outside of her bible study and church time, there was no one to ask what on earth had come over her. Since HC didn’t have any contact with her abusive mother, and limited contact with her addicted and self-absorbed father, there were no family members to see that a radical change had come over their daughter.

    HC’s husband, over time, began to lose respect for his wife. Obviously, she wasn’t very intelligent, because she let him make all the decisions, and constantly spoke highly of his brain-power. She slept with him whenever he wanted, dressed however he wanted, and raised the children however he wanted. He also got to spend money however he wanted, because HC was convinced by Mrs. Pearl that questioning his spending habits was of the devil. HC’s husband began to naturally take his wife for granted.

    HC’s husband also developed a spending and compulsive debting problem. HC noticed money disappearing, with her husband having no idea where it went. HC’s husband refused to work at times, asking his wife to work night-shift jobs for low pay, while she continued to do most of the cooking and cleaning and housekeeping and child rearing. However, he clearly didn’t like or appreciate the person that his once-strong wife was turning into. “Make a decision!!!” he shouted once. He’d never even raised his voice to her before.

    HC watched as her family’s debt piled higher and higher. Since she had no income, and no hope of developing good income through her creative gifts, it wasn’t long before HC spiraled down into depression, internet addiction, and despaired of life itself.

    Then one day, a group of musicians came to HC’s church. She saw twenty-something men and women who were, according to her pastor, glorifying God with their gifts. HC was 31 at the time, and knew that she was a more skilled musician than any two of them put together. She started questioning her husband’s wisdom. She started challenging his decisions. She started calling his handling of money into account. She finally, fearfully, showed him the book she’d been reading, and read key passages aloud to him.

    Though her husband was an otherwise quiet man, his anger erupted in the living room. He threw the book down and insisted HC burn it so that no other woman would be corrupted by its words. Both of them agreed that they needed to go to marriage counseling with a Christian counselor that they trusted.

    HC started reading the Bible on her own time, and seeing God’s word about women without the filter of the Pearls’ teachings. She saw that the Proverbs 31 woman was a strong-willed, hard-worker whose gifts made her husband and family successful. She saw that women like Deborah, Ruth, and Priscilla advanced the Kingdom of God and used their talents to His glory. She saw that the Pearls’ teaching arrived *just* at the right time to keep her from advancing her creative gifts into actual income for her family. HC saw on no uncertain terms that she’d been deceived by none other than the devil himself.

    Of course, HC is me. It’s not been an easy recovery, but I’m writing songs again, playing music again, and learning how to have a relationship with my husband that isn’t based on fear. Please, avoid this book. It will speak to the deepest woundings in your heart, but it won’t heal them–it will make them worse.

    God bless you.
    HoustonsChic

    • The Wary Witness

      Wow! So sorry about what you went through, HC, and so glad to hear that you have left the oppression of Pearl’s false teachings. Excellent analysis of Pearl’s book. I had a friend give it to me as well. For a couple of years after I read it I used to feel guilty about working outside the home, even though it was obviously God’s way of providing for our family. It also had me thinking that I should somehow make a conscious effort to praise my husband in public and act subservient to him around others in order to “be a good testimony.” I’m sure it just seemed weird to others, or worse yet perhaps made him look like a jerk, when in fact he has always treated me as an equal.

      Recently I have rejected complementarianism / patriarchy, and I’m still not sure what to do with scriptures like Ephesians 5. I still have a pretty conservative view of the New Testament, and comp / patriarchy is the only way I have ever heard Ephesians 5 interpreted. Since rejecting comp/patriarchal teachings, I have more respect and appreciation for my husband than ever, because I am now free to respect and appreciate him for the good person and wonderful man that he is, with no strings attached and no sense of duty. Maybe that’s what Ephesians 5 is really talking about. I’m not sure.

  11. Irene

    Where does the Bible say we can leave abusers? I really need to know that before I can be free at all.

  12. survivorthrivor2

    Christian counseling is great…….if you’re a man…..

    • joepote01

      As a male abuse survivor, I can tell you this is an inaccurate perspective. Male abuse victims tend to recieve bad advice from many (most?) ‘c’hristian counselors comparable to the bad advice female abuse victims receive.

      In a nutshell…we are (falsely) told if your spouse is behaving badly toward you, it is your fault for not being loving enough toward them. So it’s up to you to fix the problem by being more patient and loving. Any marital problems can be overcome by believing deeply enough, praying fervently enough, and loving sacrifically enough.

      It places an incredibly unbearable burden on the abuse victim, regardless of gender…and it is completely false from both a biblical perspective and an experiental perspective.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Joe- You are responding to the comment “Christian counseling is great…….if you’re a man…..”. Good point. I suspect that survivorthrivor2 meant that in regard to men who are not being abused or if they are an abuser. But your insight here is well-taken. It’s true. Male or female, an abuse victim is the one who receives the horrendously false nonsense in counseling so often.

      • Anonymous

        My daughter always points out that it is the people who have the ability to CARE that are often the ones they dump the most responsibility on. Clearly Joe, you were the one who had this ability in your relationship, and thus the blame and responsibility got dumped on you.

        We’ve gotten to the point where when we are in an abusive situation whether at work, school, grocery store etc. and an evil one is “scanning” us looking for a person with empathy, we either act like we have no affect (so that it doesn’t appear that we have the ability to care) or if they actually poke us (talk to us, single us out for abuse) we often completely ignore them by not even looking at them or answering their questions or by smacking them down immediately with a logical answer or a question framed-up to make them look like the vulture they are.

        Where do we get these examples from? From Jesus. He used all these methods and more and they are all excellent ways to deal with others.

        It’s usually immediately clear what a person’s motivation (heart) was by their response. It was extremely hard for me to learn to do this because I’d been trained to submit and cater to others (to let them violate me spiritually) but Jesus certainly didn’t do this nor did Paul, Moses, David, Abigail etc. And I come from a family where the majority are women and most are psychopaths so I’ve seen the destruction they’ve wrought on the men in their lives. Abuse is abuse no matter what gender it’s coming from and I’m grateful for another male voice (besides Jeff) on this website who speaks out about it. Thank you.

      • joepote01

        “My daughter always points out that it is the people who have the ability to CARE that are often the ones they dump the most responsibility on.”

        That’s very insightful, Anonymous.

        It does often seem as though counselors assume if they can get just ONE partner to really work on the relationship the issues will be resolved…so they focus their attention on the partner who cares…completely oblivious to the fact that the caring partner is already stretched to the limit from trying to be the glue holding the relationship together.

        So many false assumptions and innacurate paradigms! It is very difficult working past the false tenets of the Divorce Mythology so many of us learned growing up in church: http://josephjpote.com/2014/01/divorce-mythology/

        Thank you, Anonymous!

      • joepote01

        Jeff –

        Yes, thank you for clarifying.

        It is really not an issue of male versus female. Rather, it is an issue of abusers versus victims of abuse.

        Too often, well-meaning but ignorant/mistaken counselors attempt to place a huge responsibility on the victim while going ‘easy’ on the abuser. The exact opposite of what common sense and biblical principles would dictate.

      • Thanks for saying this Joe. As moderators, we should have responded with something to this effect ourselves, when we first published the comment about Christian counseling being great if you are a man. Thanks for catching it and bringing the moderating influence which we in our tired and stretched states didn’t do. 🙂

  13. KayE

    This has always bothered me. If church leaders and other Christians believe that marriage is so important and divorce so bad, why don’t they hold abusers to account? It wouldn’t make any difference to hardened abusers. But for abusers who are motivated to change this is the only approach that works, and it’s the one used by the experts. When churches refuse to hold abusers to account they are taking away the only possible way of saving such a marriage, and so they are directly contributing to divorce.

    • Anonymous

      ” If church leaders and other Christians believe that marriage is so important and divorce so bad, why don’t they hold abusers to account? ”

      Part of the problem is that they don’t think of abusive behavior as abusive. Let’s face it, many of the popular Christian leaders we know of today are abusers themselves and as such they have a profound sense of entitlement. When women start coming to them for help they often initially send her back with the lines so many of us have heard: submit, obey, pray more, do more, give more. They truly DON’T CARE, they just want the status quo to remain in place so that their lives are easier to live and they have as many servants as possible, with the least amount of effort. It’s really only when it starts affecting their paycheck or if there’s so much distention in the ranks that when they’re giving their manipulative sermons they can’t hear the sound of their own voice, that they finally pay attention. Then it’s to once again shut everyone up so they can get back to the business at hand–having others worship them.

      The problem usually starts at the top and these people select others who are either like themselves to put in positions of authority in their church, or people who are willing to maintain the regime that’s in place. As Jeff talks about in his own life, once you weed out the evil ones from a church, you are often left with a very small congregation. This means there’s not a lot of money or people to worship you– and sadly this is the goal of many ministries today. For organizations like this, it’s easier (and even BETTER) to simply get rid of those who speak the truth about abuse than to try to make abusers accountable. Sick and sad and quite gross really, but oh so common today!

      • KayE

        Anonymous, when you say, “they don’t think of abusive behavior as abusive”, I’m sure that’s often right. What a terrible, terrible attitude for people who call themselves Christians.

    • JJ

      If church leaders and other Christians believe that marriage is so important and divorce so bad, why don’t they hold abusers to account?

      In my opinion, the reason is because it is usually a woman who is making the accusation. Misogyny. We must root out sexism and misogyny from the church. As long as the church clings legalistically to gender roles (hi to the Pearls!), as long as the church does not have a radical disavowal of non-Biblical teachings that go back quite a long ways (St. Clement, Tertullian, St. Augustine, I’m looking at you and your pals!), then change in how the church treats abuse survivors will come slowly, if at all, to the cost of many more hundreds or thousands of lives lost through domestic violence.

      If you are still freshly wounded from abuse, you may want to not read this link — Misogynist Quotes from Church Fathers Otherwise, I think the quotes in the link are quite enlightening as to the reason why modern-day abusers are not held to account.
      [Note from Eds to JJ: we have replaced the link you gave with a link that provides the same quotes from church fathers but is written by a bible believing Christian. We know you won’t mind. 🙂 ]

      I love my faith. I love Christ, I love Christianity. I do not recognize the God Spirit I love so dearly in the influential but tragically misogynistic words written by the church leaders through the ages at that URL.

      • MarkQ

        I think there’s more to it. I confided in my last pastor about a specific, life-changing incident of abuse when I was a child. His response was coldly, “well I don’t agree”. He didn’t want to engage with me to understand it more, he wasn’t asking me to defend my seemingly disobedient response.

        This isn’t just about wives and husbands, but it is about a flawed view of all authority – that any command that doesn’t require sin MUST BE OBEYED, regardless of how demeaning or slavish it might seem to the recipient. Thus, any abuse after the fact is seen as a just (although perhaps harsh) consequence.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Mark- I think there is also another and very much related fundamental flaw in the churches. Namely it is a denial of evil. Naivete about the enemy. Willful blindness and ignorance to wickedness, what its emissaries look like, how they operate, and the fact that they exist at all. We are to be wise as serpents regarding evil, yet innocent as doves in respect to participating in it. Most pastors and local churches and members are failing miserably in this direct command of our Lord. Evil is here. It sits in the pews. It holds church offices and parades as a pillar. And almost no one wants to rip off the facade.

      • You are right, Jeff.

        The churchified people have their pet ideas of what ‘evil’ is…. feminism, abortion on demand, divorce, egalitarianism, voting for political party X, secular education, restricting gun ownership, demonic strongholds, speaking in tongues, not speaking in tongues … whatever. And while they have all those causes to get on their soapboxes about and feel like they are gloriously doing God’s work, they keep their blinders on about evil per se: its nature and its tactics.

        Meanwhile, evil is rife in the church:– the abusers, the child molesters, the wolves gnawing at the sheep, the Sanhedrin judging the laity, the bullies like Driscoll defrauding their churches of mega-dollars, the evangelical publishing/conferencing juggernaut with all its mutual backscratching…

      • Anonymous

        Barb, when I was reading this part of your comment, “Meanwhile, evil is rife in the church — ” I initially thought it read evil is SAFE in the church. But this is true — evil IS SAFE in many churches today with no one to call it what it is; it’s safely allowed to sit down and join right in!

  14. bright sunshinin' day

    KayE – YES! You said:

    “If church leaders and other Christians believe that marriage is so important and divorce so bad, why don’t they hold abusers to account?…When churches refuse to hold abusers to account they are taking away the only possible way of saving such a marriage, and so they are directly contributing to divorce.”

  15. Elizabeth Marie

    I enjoyed the article and agree. But what is the radical new marriage counseling the title suggests? Simply re-examining our word definitions? Are there other more practical suggestions for churches to use when counseling? This leaves little to learn from other than changing the “Wife submit” emphasis the church uses today.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Elizabeth- Thank you for your question. The points suggested at the end of the article are really the suggested changes to be made. I would say that fundamentally churches and pastors and counselors and all of us need to honestly, and I mean with ruthless honesty, examine ourselves to see if in fact the main emphasis in our teaching on marriage is on things like authority, obedience, submission, and so on. That may not sound radical, but it is. When those things are emphasized in our teaching the fact is that the main message of texts like Ephesians 5 is negated and replaced with “wives do what your husband says. Husbands, tell your wives what to do. Wives be silent. Men, you do the talking.” I know that there will be loud protests – “No, no, no! We always tell people that being the head of the wife does not mean lording it over her but loving her.” However, in the end, it is not being head by love, but being head by authority that is communicated and practiced. And I believe making this change is indeed a radical one from what is so common today.

      • Elizabeth

        Yes, I hear you. We mean well, we assume our listeners understand, but if it’s not practiced, the truth is not getting across well enough. And direct teaching on the subject of abusive tendencies and what they look like, and how they play out, is critical. Thank you. I am so glad to hear of men like you who take this message seriously and seek to spread it throughout the church. God bless you!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Elizabeth, P.S. – In addition, I think another radical change is for all teaching on marriage and counseling on marriage is to implement sound teaching on the nature of abuse and its effects. Also we need to teach clearly that wedding vows are not unconditional and that abuse destroys them. Divorce for abuse is sanctioned by God. Please note that when we speak of abuse here at ACFJ we mean abuse as it is defined on the home page of our blog site.

  16. MarkQ

    Hi Jeff, I’m not sure if I haven’t seen that level of evil, or if I am just somehow desensitized to it. My experience is that the denomination I was in did a pretty good job of handling gross evil, but it did so in an environment where milder, but systemic, evil was tolerated. Abuse is definitely a blind spot in the modern church.

    When I look at my specific abuse, it’s hard for me to say that my abusers were evil people, but it makes much more sense to me to say that they were people with controlling personalities that got encouraged to be abusive by bad doctrine. There is a comment from HC that is more my perspective. She had a great marriage, then read a book by the Pearls on “Christian” marriage. She really didn’t question the teachings and applied them to her marriage, unknown to her husband. The result was that her marriage became authoritarian. It was only when she brought up the book to her husband that they were able to realize it was the teachings of the book itself that were creating their marital problems.

    So, my father and mother tried to raise us according to Biblical principles, but the principles they were taught were that the father has to be the unquestioned authority figure and confront each and every sin. My mom was taught that she and he had to have a unified front towards the children, and that meant submitting and agreeing with whatever he wanted. In the same way, those around my abusive elder held that unity in front of the congregation was more important than correcting that elder, so they would remain silent while he taught bad doctrine and inserted his personal preferences as Biblical commands.

    I would say that this is similar in our society. We want strong, tough policemen who will defend us. However, when policemen do something really wrong, like shooting someone in the back, the justice system turns a blind eye. The story with Ferguson isn’t just racism. Their police force is just plain abusive. There are an average of 3 arrest warrants per household.

    • … the denomination I was in did a pretty good job of handling gross evil, but it did so in an environment where milder, but systemic, evil was tolerated.

      Ooh thanks for this Mark. I’m going to chew the cud on this one. I think I’ve experienced a church like that too.

      I know of a church where gross evil, an elder’s adultery, was handled well: his adultery was exposed and rebuked by the leadership and the adulterer was biblically disciplined and left the church. But that same church has another elder who is a member of the Orange Lodge (a ‘c’hristianized version of Freemasonry) and who is quite Pharisaic in his thinking. And he is still in that church, still an elder, and although a few people over the years have tried to question what the Orange Lodge is all about, the questions always get brushed off and ‘lost’.

      The whole church is, in my opinion, living in a semi-comatose state. The systemic evil lurks under the surface, and the haughty male superiority is pretty strong (but veiled, so that only strong women would be insulted by it), but they would still handle gross immorality correctly if and when it occurred. And they have what I would call a somewhat limited (sub-biblical) definition of what is ‘gross’.

      • MarkQ

        The one church still has the abusive elder, and they’ve done all sorts of stupid things because he read some paper or had some idea. For example, they got upset that people were leaving the church without talking with the leaders. The leaders were apparently supposed to decide if people had Biblical grounds for leaving, which from what I heard turned into guilting and manipulating people to come back. So they decided to have a yearly membership vow renewal ceremony, and then started teaching that leaving the church without elder approval was forsaking vows and grounds for discipline.

        Denominationally, though, it is really perplexing. The system is abusive, but within that system are some really godly leaders, many of whom came in from the outside because overall there is a deep concern for theological accuracy. The seminary is going downhill, again, not because of that accuracy, but because of the practical stuff, like emphasizing “biblical counseling”, shepherding and the superiority of leaders, who come out literally thinking they are God’s gift to the church.

      • The system is abusive, but within that system are some really godly leaders,

        Yeah, isn’t that perplexing? If only the godly leaders within the system would speak up and rock the boat more!

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  1. A Radical New Way of Christian Marriage Counseling

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