A Cry For Justice

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

Harmful Counsel Harming Women Is A Church Problem – reblog by Rachael Starke

Paige Patterson’s approach to applying Scripture to the subject of divorce is one that leaders in other, equally broad streams of conservative evangelicalism use. E.g. Heath Lambert, recent president of ACBC, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Many thanks to Rachael Starke for allowing us to republish her post. Go here to read it at her blog where it includes an embedded audio file that we could only give a link to here.


Last month, Rachael Denhollander’s prophetic question about the worth of a little girl’s life brought the topic of institutionally ignored abuse of girls into sharp relief. Now Christians are asking a different version of that question all over again, about girls who grow up to be women who are being severely abused by their husbands, and go to their pastors for help.

Last week, RNS journalist Jonathan Merritt brought an 18- year old audio file of Paige Patterson comments at a CBMW conference about a woman in an abusive marriage asking him for help, out from the shadowy depths of the Christian watch-blogosphere into the bright light of Twitter. There are transcripts of Patterson’s remarks floating around, but to feel the full impact of Patterson’s recounting of his initial counsel to her, and its aftermath, it’s best to listen – it takes about 5 minutes.

Paige Patterson (SBC) Advice to Victims of Domestic Violence 

Patterson’s counsel is that the woman should pray by her bedside after her husband goes to sleep, and then to prepare for the possibility that her treatment might get worse. Sure enough, it does, and the woman returns to Dr. Patterson with two black eyes. The woman asks if the consequences of his counsel make him happy. Patterson replies that it does, because he’s noticed that the man had shown up at church, professing to be repentant.

When I first heard the audio, the only hope I felt was that its relative age meant that since then, Patterson’s happiness had turned deep sorrow over how his counsel enabled the dehumanizing assault of a woman. But later that same day, Merritt tweeted a much more recent piece of video from a conference in which Patterson, from a teaching pulpit, turns Genesis 2:22 into an anecdote involving an attractive teenage girl two boys’ objectifying comments about her, and his blessing their comments by referencing the same Bible verse. (Once again, it’s helpful to watch the segment, although if you have teenage daughters like I do, best to watch/listen where only Jesus hears anything you might say out loud.)

Far from repentance and change, Patterson’s attitudes about women seem to have deteriorated and atrophied in, I believe, a ministerially disqualifying way.

In the week since all this has come to light, a growing chorus of leaders in the SBC has called for Patterson to remove himself from leadership or be removed. So far, Patterson has refused. We don’t know yet whether he will relent, or whether the SBC will do the right thing in removing him themselves. But if either of those scenarios play out, many Christians might be tempted to believe that when Patterson goes, his views will go with him. They will be mistaken.

The tragic fact is, Patterson’s approach to applying Scripture to the subject of divorce is one that leaders in other, equally broad streams of conservative evangelicalism not only use themselves, but proffer as a model for the church as a whole.

Take Heath Lambert, the recent president of the Association of Christian Biblical Counselors.

In a live-streamed Q and A session at the most recent annual ACBC conference for the ACBC, Heath Lambert fielded the kind of hypothetical question Paige Patterson had experienced in real life. What could be done for a woman in an abusive or deeply broken marriage – involving things such as emotional abuse or sexual addiction – where there was not currently physical violence? Was there any Scriptural justification for a woman in such a marriage to pursue separation, or divorce?

Lambert’s strategy for answering the question is notably similar to Patterson’s. In Lambert’s case, he employs two separate texts – Mark 10, followed by 1 Peter 3 – to argue that the Bible says “no”. Once again, it’s best to watch the video to get the full context of Lambert’s remarks. The question begins at 44:58, and the segment lasts about 5 minutes.

In referencing Mark 10, Lambert’s statement that he’ll let Jesus’ words “sink in and go uninterpreted” is unfortunate, because it’s that lack of consideration of context that leads people to believe that Jesus is making some kind of a blanket statement about divorce, rather than a right framing of it for Jesus’ particular audience at that moment.

In Mark 10, the group posing the question to Jesus about the legality of divorce hardly has the welfare of abused women as their leading concern. They are the Pharisees, infamous for making the Old Testament Law a means to their various ends, chief among them playing legal gotcha games to try and challenge Jesus’ expertise in the law. Men in Jesus’ day were, ironically, doing the very thing of which women in abusive situations are often accused – making exaggerated claims about their spouse’s sinful or displeasing behavior as an excuse to abandon her. Moses recognized that divorce was a way of protecting women who would be at risk of worse than mistreatment if hardhearted men were not given the option. And yet those same hardhearted men were using the option to do the very thing Moses was trying to prevent. Jesus knew all of this, like he knew the Pharisees’ hearts, and both schooled them and indicted them in the process.

With 1 Peter 3, Lambert takes even more hermeneutical liberties, asserting that the phrase “even if some do not obey the word” represents a kind of MadLibs “fill in the blank” representation for any kind of sin being committed by any kind of husband (rather than the likely subcategory of an unbelieving husband vs. a professing believer). But in the very same breath, Lambert raises the category of physical violence as an exception, without giving any justification for why the exception he chooses is legitimate, but others, including ones Jesus himself names, are not.

Lambert’s counsel terminates at the same place as Patterson’s initial counsel – that a woman is to stay in a marriage where she’s not currently being physically beaten. Unlike the Patterson case, the question posed to Lambert is theoretical. But when we note the fruits of the application of that hypothetical borne with the real woman Paige Patterson counseled and then dismissed with such callous disregard,

I can’t help wondering about women who have come to the pastors and ACBC counselors who sat in that audience, or who were listening to that counsel directly online.

I can’t help thinking of the women and children I know personally, who bear deep mental, spiritual, and even physical scars from the verbal and psychological abuse they have endured.

And I can’t imagine what it would feel like for a woman to hear that her desperate desire to be rescued from such an environment, or to have her children delivered, was really a wrong desire to just feel good. (:49.50)

Given all that’s transpired since then, it’s notably providential that the theme for this year’s ACBC conference is Abuse. Hopefully, the events of this month will have a clarifying effect on the conference agenda. Were Heath Lambert continuing on as president, he might take the opportunity to reconsider the remarks he made at last year’s conference, and state them very differently.

[Note from ACFJ editors: we do not hold out much hope that the ACBC Conference on Abuse will be much good. We know Chris Moles is speaking there and we have some serious concerns about his approach to domestic abuse.]

But last month, Lambert announced that he was stepping down from the ACBC to focus on his role as senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, and that a new president will be officially installed at this year’s conference. The new president is Dale Johnson Jr., who earned his Ph.D in Biblical Counseling just three years ago from the seminary where he currently serves as a department professor – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – the seminary whose president is still, as of this writing, Paige Patterson.

This appointment might make the ACBC potentially appear to be positioning itself as the counseling wing of the SBC. But the reach of the ACBC extends far beyond the SBC, into numerous other denominations, and innumerable independent evangelical and Reformed congregations across the country.

That’s why I’m praying that Reformed and independent evangelical pastors and leaders don’t observe what’s being exposed within the SBC and think that this issue is confined there. It’s not. The women in those congregations, just like the women speaking up within the SBC, are praying that this harmful teaching, masked as biblical fidelity and compassionate shepherding, is eradicated, once and for all.

The safety and well-being of women, and children, quite literally depend on it.


Rachael Starke blogs at Thinkings of Things. Some of you may want to subscribe to her blog.

Related posts

Open letter from Southern Baptist men to the SWBTS Board of Trustees. Heads up!  – All Southern Baptist men who share the views represented in the letter are invited to demonstrate that conviction by signing the letter.

If God put you together you’re not allowed to separate — says Dr. Heath Lambert, Executive Director of ACBC

Paige Patterson and a culture that breeds a generation of abusers – by Rebecca Davis

CBMW’s new Statement on Abuse still falls short

Shepherds Protect the Flock: Five Changes Pastors Need to Make in Addressing Abuse in the Church  – a guest post by an American pastor.

“Little women” have been called “silly women” which now contributes to misogyny in the church

When Paul wrote to Timothy about pseudo-christian men who beguile women in order to take them captive, Paul used the Greek word for women in its diminutive form (gunaikarion). How have English Bibles translated that? And what does this have to do with misogyny in the church today? 

The way most English Bibles have translated gunaikarion (γυναικάριον) in 2 Tim 3:6 is very problematic. The KJV rendered it as ‘silly women’:

For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts

I have made a list of how a English versions have rendered gunaikarion. I’ve roughly ordered the list from the least to most disparaging of women (as the adjectives sound to our modern ears). The way I’ve ordered it may not be the way you would order it. My straw poll of a few women shows that other women would tweak my ordering.

women ………………. Wycliffe ~1380; Tyndale 1535 *

little women ………… Wycliffe-Purvey  ~1380 (Purvey’s words in square brackets**)

little-women ……….. DLNT 2011

some women ………… NIRV 2014..

simple women ………. Great Bible 1539

immature women ….. CEB 2011

weak women ………… WNT 1903; GNT 1992; NASB 1995; NET 2006; ERV 2006; ICB 2015; TLV 2015; ESV 2016

weak-willed women …. NIV 1984; CJB 1998;  OJB 2011 

weak-minded women .. GW 1995; NOG 2011

vulnerable women …… BSB ~2000; VOICE 2012; NLT 2o15; EHV 2017;  TPT 2017;

gullible women ………. NKJ 1982; WEB 1997; HNV 1997; NIV 2011; CSB 2017

silly women ……………  KJV 1611; WBT 1833; YLT 1862; DARBY 1890; DRA 1899; ASV 1901; TLB 1971; PHILLIPS 1972; NRSV 1989; ERV 2004; NCV 2005; JUB 2010; BRG 2012; MEV 2014

idle women ……………. HCSB 2009

foolish women ……….. BBE 1941; NLV 1969; WE 1998; NTE 2011; LEB 2012; ISV 2014

To show how much the KJV’s translation ‘silly women’ has influenced subsequent translations, I have created this table. The yellow cells show translations which to our modern ears do not sound disparaging of women.

All languages change over time. For example, ‘gay’ used to mean ‘happy’; now it usually means ‘homosexual man’.

Roughly 60 years after William Tyndale was executed (martyred) for his doctrine and for translating scripture into English, the King James Version was published. The KJV would become the main Bible used in the English-speaking world for the next three and a half centuries. (If you want to learn more about this, I recommend the article A brief history of Bible Translations.)

The KJV rendered gunaikarion (little women) as ‘silly women’. It says that evil men “lead captive silly women laden with sins…” 

Nowadays ‘silly’ means foolish, thoughtless, empty-headed, ridiculous, frivolous, causing amusement or derision. But in the 16th and 17th centuries, ‘silly’ was used in a number of senses which it does not have today.

When the translators of the KJV used the word ‘silly,’ it is likely they meant something different than what ‘silly’ means to us now. 

Let me set out a bit of linguistic history. The term ‘early modern English’ denotes the form of English used from about 1485 to about 1670. Several of the Bible versions I quoted above come from the early modern English period: Tyndale’s New Testament (1535), the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1539), the King James Version (1611).  

Ruth Magnusson Davis, who has gently updated Tyndale’s New Testament into modern English, makes the following remarks about early modern English in her preface to The October Testament

A significant feature of early modern English is the polysemy of words; that is, words had multiple meanings (poly– many; semes- meanings) – much more so than today. When a word has many semes or meanings, we say that ‘it shows polysemy.’  The early modern English vocabulary was much smaller than ours today and words typically showed great polysemy, so that one word was used to express thoughts for which we now use more or narrower words.

An example is the noun ‘mansion,’ which once not only meant a large or stately house, but could refer to almost anything that served as a dwelling, including a tent, and was also used to refer to stopping places in a journey. Clearly ‘mansion’ said to our ancestors something quite different than it now says to us at John 14:2: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” We are familiar with this verse because the KJV followed Tyndale here. But the KJV preferred ‘house’ at 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, where Tyndale again had ‘mansion’ in an obsolete seme:

We know surely that if our earthly mansion wherein we now dwell were destroyed, that we have a building ordained of God, an habitation not made with hands, but eternal in heaven. And therefore sigh we, desiring to be clothed with our mansion which is from heaven.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) the word ‘silly’ has had many different senses. The OED lists the different senses, giving each sense a number.

Here are senses 1-6  of ‘silly’ according to the OED Online.
As you read each of these senses, I invite you to consider whether they might apply to women who are abused by men.

1. Worthy, good. Also: pious, holy. Auspicious, fortunate.

2. Helpless, defenceless, powerless; frequently with the suggestion of innocence or undeserved suffering.

3. a) Meagre, poor, trifling; of little significance, substance, or value.
b) Weak, feeble, frail; lacking strength, size, or endurance (of people).
c) Weak, flimsy, trifling; lacking strength, size, or substance (of inanimate objects).
d) Sickly, ailing, in poor health; weak or feeble due to illness or infirmity.

4. That provokes sympathy or compassion; that is to be pitied; unfortunate, wretched.

5. a) Simple, rustic; lacking sophistication or refinement; (hence) ignorant, uneducated.
b) Of humble rank or status; lowly.

6. a) Lacking in judgement or common sense; foolish, thoughtless, empty-headed; characterized by ridiculous or frivolous behaviour.
b) Characterized by or associated with foolishness. Causing amusement or derision; having a comical appearance.

The OED Online says:

In the 16th and 17th centuries ‘silly’ was very extensively used as an adjective in senses 2–5 and in a number of examples it is difficult to decide which shade of meaning was intended by the writer. In modern use the dominant adjectival sense is sense 6.

So senses 2-5 were very common when the King James Version was produced. And the OED Online says that in a number of usage examples which the OED has cited, it is difficult to decide which shade of meaning was intended.

Here are the usage examples which the OED cites for sense 6 a). I have gently updated the spelling to make it easier to read and I’ve put one citation in red. Pay attention to the date of each example.

6. a) Of a person: lacking in judgement or common sense; foolish, thoughtless, empty-headed; characterized by ridiculous or frivolous behaviour.

1555  And like as it is a gentle and old proverb, Let losers have their words: so by the way take forth this lesson, ever to shew gentleness to ye silly fooles. (The most vile and detestable use of diceplay)  
1576   Wee silly soules, take the matter too too heavily. 
1611   Of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women. (KJV 2 Tim 3:6)  
1691   A wise and good man..will neither be so stupid, as to be surprized with any disaster, nor so silly, as to increase it by a fruitless anxiety.
1833   I should be very silly to pay when I might have them without. (French Wines & Politics)
1889   The gentlemen often came into the drawing-room with glassy eyes, and silly of speech.

The OED Online says that the early compilers of the dictionary may have ascribed the wrong sense to a number of its citations of ‘silly’. It is reasonable, therefore, to put this question: Did the compilers of the Oxford Dictionary ascribe the wrong sense to the KJV’s translation of 2 Timothy 3:6?

The compiling of OED was a long project which began in the 1850s. By that stage ‘silly’ usually meant  ‘foolish’. The people who worked on the OED in the 1800s were almost all men. All of them would have been familiar with the KJV. As men of their time, they most likely assumed that women are pretty foolish, particularly women who get abused by men.

We know that abusive men typically – and wrongly–  accuse their victims of being senseless, stupid, crazy, etc. And abusive men have spread that myth so widely that most people in society believe it. The first compilers of the OED would have been just as conditioned by that myth as everyone else was.

In her scholarly book Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary (2005) Lynda Mugglestone shows that the men who first compiled the OED revealed themselves vulnerable to the prejudices of their own linguistic preferences and to the influence of contemporary social history. 

Absolute neutrality is perhaps impossible. The lexicographer is inevitably bound to time and place, embedded in his (or her) own cultural preoccupations. … The idea of impartiality can soon fracture when faced with historical positioning of ideologies of gender, race, and class. (“Lost for Words” 162)

…the intended empiricism of the [OED] dictionary is filtered through distinctly male-as-norm ideologies… (166)

…the level to which lexicographers are able to disentangle themselves from ‘generally accepted prejudices’ in providing a record of the language remains a real and fundamental problem. The level of incomplete ‘disentangling’ in the OED is hence both predictable and, to a large extent, understandable. Almost invariably the human interface between dictionary-maker and dictionary creates a certain latitude in which, alongside the ideals of impartial objectivity, the all too fallible preoccupations and predilections of ordinary life creep in. (167-8)

Paul described these women as “ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” We might (perhaps) be able to infer from those words that these women are foolish. But now that fxwe know a lot more about the long-term effects of trauma on the brain, it behoves us to be cautious in making that inference. Some of these women – or many of them – might have been abused by previous abusers before they got targeted by the wicked men Paul describes in 2 Tim 3:1-5. Some of them may have suffered brain damage as a result of being choked or smothered. Many of them may have been sexually abused as children and/or as slaves in the Roman empire.

I urge you to watch this short video in which an experienced police officer talks about the effects of sexual assault:

When describing the false teachers who slyly bring in damnable heresies, the Apostle Peter deftly spells out their trident of evildoing: false doctrine, sexual immorality and financial greed. Paul says they target unstable souls:

They count it pleasure to live deliciously for a season. Spots they are, and vileness, living at pleasure, and in deceptive ways feasting with you, having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease to sin, beguiling unstable souls. Hearts they have exercised with covetousness. They are cursed children and have forsaken the right way, and have gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the reward of unrighteousness
(2 Peter 2:13b-15, New Matthew Bible, italics mine)

My next post will discuss what Paul might have intended to convey when he used the diminutive form of ‘women’ in 2 Tim 3:6. 

***   ***    ***   ***   ***   ***

*By 1535 William Tyndale had courageously translated the New Testament from Greek into English at a time when England deemed it a capital offence in to have a Bible in any language other than Latin. Tyndale’s translation was printed in Europe and smuggled into England. But English has changed a lot since the early 1500’s, so Tyndale’s translation is pretty hard for most of us to comprehend. Thankfully, Ruth Magnusson Davis has gently updated the early modern English of Tyndale’s New Testament so we can now read it easily.

Lord willing, Ruth Magnusson Davis will be publishing the entire New Matthew Bible. It will comprise not only the New Testament (which she has already published here), but the Old Testament as well. She is gently updating the OT  of the Matthew Bible: i.e., Tyndale’s translation of parts of the Hebrew OT,  and the parts Tyndale did not manage to translate before he was executed. Those parts were translated from the Latin Vulgate by Myles Coverdale who was Tyndale’s contemporary and fellow believer.

** There are two distinct versions of the Wycliffe Bible. The earlier version was translated during the life of Wycliffe and is called the Wycliffe Version. The later version is regarded as the work of John Purvey and is called the Wycliffe-Purvey version.

Further Reading 

God’s view of women who get targeted by abusive men (2 Timothy 3:6-7)

Paige Patterson and a culture that breeds a generation of abusers – by Rebecca Davis, #ChurchDV

When a church elder said to a friend of mine, regarding her husband’s 25-year-long pornography problem, “It’s just a little porn,” I knew the problem went deeper than the husband’s porn. That church elder had a problem too.

When Sovereign Grace Ministries protects child abusers and accuses the victims, the problem is obviously way beyond child abusers. There is every indication of serious rot at the core of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

When Beth Moore describes the condescension, stereotyping, objectification, and downright misogyny she’s had to deal with in conservative evangelicalism, there is every indication of a much deeper problem at work at the core of the hearts of the men she’s interacting with on a regular basis than simply ignorance and arrogance.

When Paige Patterson promoted Darrell Gilyard, a pastor who raped many women—not just ignored his heinous sin, but actually promoted him—and almost none of Paige Patterson’s peers thought this was a problem, this indicates a problem in their own hearts and perhaps with their very own bodies. If a man does not see rape as a problem, then something is going on.

When Paige Patterson and other evangelical leaders stereotype older women as difficult gossipy biddies and younger women as sex objects, and the young men they’re speaking to just laugh and enjoy it, there is a problem in the hearts of those young men, and very possibly with their eyes and their very bodies.

And these are the young men who are heading out all over the country to start churches in the mold of the “conservative resurgence” that Paige Patterson himself directed, the leaders of which are getting stained-glass windows in their honor.

So here I am, learning about things such things as (for example, and I could give so many examples) a young man in ministry berating his fiancée to read “complementarian” material so she would submit to him to allow him to do sexual things to her and force her to do sexual things to him. The leaders of conservative evangelicalism might cry out that this is never what they intended, but they are breeding these men.

Another woman told me that her extremely abusive husband, one whom she had to flee from for her life, had been a seminary student under Paige Patterson’s teachings and loved how he taught submission.

When Paige Patterson spoke the atrocious words eighteen years ago showing not only a complete ignorance of abuse, but an apparent delight in it (he was “happy” when the woman in his story showed up at church with two black eyes), he demonstrated a problem in his own heart far beyond ignorance.

When recently instead of recanting these words, he defended them, and then his conservative evangelical friends considered him “under attack,” for the public outcry and held a prayer meeting to pray imprecatory psalms against his “attackers,” they show that they have a problem in their own hearts. They demonstrate that they themselves are the very people that Beth Moore describes. They demonstrate that something far deeper and darker is going on here than simply ignorance or even willful ignorance, which is bad enough. They demonstrate that they want to continue to breed a generation of abusers.

There are those of us who are in the trenches dealing with the fallout of horrendous teachings such as that which Patterson recently defended. But with a very few isolated exceptions, Patterson’s fellow SBC and conservative evangelical leaders will not decry his teachings, apparently because there is something going on in their own hearts.

Apparently continuing to breed a generation of abusers is more important to them than showing the love of God to those in need. God help us.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This post was written by Rebecca Davis and first published at her blog Here’s the Joy.
We thank Rebecca for allowing us to republish it.


Posts from other websites about Paige Patterson:

Letter from Southern Baptist women, PLEASE SIGN if you are from the SBC! Letter to SWBTS Board of Trustees


Analysis: Paige Patterson’s Teachings on Domestic Violence Keep Victims in Harm’s Way – Julie Anne Smith

Not Only Did Paige Patterson Rejoice When a Woman Was Physically Abused By Her Husband, He Refused to Believe 25 Reports of Sexual Abuse by Darrell Gilyard — The Wartburg Watch

Paige Patterson and Doing the Right Thing for the SBC, Again  – Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today

Southern Baptist leader’s advice to abused women sends leaders scrambling to respond – Sarah Pulliam Bayley, Washington Post

The Scandal Tearing Apart America’s Largest Protestant Denomination – Jonathan Merritt, The Atlantic

The Contaminated Pulpit and Other Weird Things – by Wade Burleson, 2008. A quote from this article:

The pulpit from behind which Dr. Bullock spoke was eventually removed from Southwestern’s chapel under orders of the new President of SWBTS, Dr. Paige Patterson.  Dr. Patterson explained to those he had to remove it because “it had been contaminated by a woman preaching behind it.”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolution on Domestic Violence (1979) They have not made any resolutions on it since then!

Southern Baptist leader who advised abused women not to divorce doubles down, says he has nothing to apologize for – Sarah Pulliam Bayley, Washington Post

Paige Patterson and a culture that breeds a generation of abusers – Rebecca Davis

Harem Building – the revealing patriarchy at Paige Patterson’s seminary – Tim Fall

We are shocked’: Thousands of Southern Baptist women denounce leader’s ‘objectifying’ comments, advice to abused women – Sarah Pulliam Bayley, Washington Post

CBMW’s new Statement on Abuse still falls short. #ChurchDV

CBMW have published two Statements on Abuse. How do their 1994 to 2018 statements differ? How much have they learned in 24 years?

CBWW is the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It is an interdenominational organisation which champions “complementarian” doctrine — the belief that the Bible says that men are to lead in the church and the home and women are to submit.

I will show their 1994 Statement in blue and their 2018 Statement in pink. (No gender inference intended with those colours!) My comments are in black.

CBMW did not number the points in either of their statements. But I have numbered the points to enable me to share my further thoughts at the end of this post.


  • We understand abuse to mean the cruel use of power or authority to harm another person emotionally, physically, or sexually.
  • We believe abuse can be defined as any act or failure to act resulting in imminent risk, serious injury, death, physical or emotional or sexual harm, or exploitation of another person.

There is some change there. But their new definition of abuse is still inadequate.


  • We are against all forms of physical, sexual and/or verbal abuse.
  • We condemn all forms of physical, sexual and/or verbal abuse.

Insignificant change there.


  • We believe that the biblical teaching on relationships between men and women does not support, but condemns abuse (Prov. 12:18; Eph. 5:25-29; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7-8; 1 Pet. 3:7; 5:3).
  • We believe that the biblical teaching on relationships between men and women does not support, but condemns abuse (Prov. 12:18Eph. 5:25-29Col. 3:181 Tim. 3:3Titus 1:7-81 Pet. 3:7; 5:3).

No change there. That is significant and I will say more about it below.


  • We believe that abuse is sin. It is destructive and evil. Abuse is the hallmark of the devil and is in direct opposition to the purpose of God. Abuse ought not to be tolerated in the Christian community.
  • We believe that abuse is not only a sin but is also a crime. It is destructive and evil. Abuse is a hallmark of the devil and is in direct opposition to the purposes of God. Abuse must not to be tolerated in the Christian community.

They’ve added “it is also a crime’ – but that just shows how little they still understand about domestic abuse. I’ll say more about that below.

They’ve made a minor change from  “it ought not be tolerated” to “it must not be tolerated”. However, their word “must” rings hollow unless they call their own big-shot leaders and founders to account and call for them to be stripped of all their leadership positions and perks.

Paige PattersonJohn Piper. Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware have all given advice that put victims of abuse in harm’s way and enabled abusive men to continue their mindset of male entitlement. (Click on each man’s name to see the evidence. And click here and here to see futher evidence about Paige Patterson.) 

If CBMW wants to stand by its rhetoric, it must do all it can to get these men exposed as men who have condoned, tolerated and taught things which coerce women to “tolerate” abuse.

John Piper and Wayne Grudem were founders of CBMW. When the founders of an organization have enabled men to abuse women, what hope does the organization have to turn the ship?


  • We believe that the Christian community is responsible for the well-being of its members. It has a responsibility to lovingly confront abusers and to protect the abused.
  • We believe that the local church and Christian ministries have a responsibility to establish safe environments; to execute policies and practices that protect against any form of abuse; to confront abusers and to protect the abused, which includes the responsibility to report abuse to civil authorities.
  • We believe that church and ministry leaders have a special obligation to report abuse to civil authorities. Moreover, these leaders are responsible for knowing the laws of their state about reporting the suspicion or accusation of child and spousal abuse, and for following those laws in good faith.

That’s a significant improvement. But who at CBMW will lean on Paige Patterson to report himself to the police for advising an abused woman to do things that put her at increased risk of danger from her abusive husband? Patterson instructed her to pray at her husband’s bedside and the husband retaliated by giving her two black eyes. And if it turns out that Paige Patterson was fabricating that story, who at CBMW will denounce him for lying?


  • We believe that both abusers and the abused are in need of emotional and spiritual healing.
  • We believe that God extends healing to those who earnestly seek him.
  • We are confident of the power of God’s healing love to restore relationships fractured by abuse, but we realize that repentance, forgiveness, wholeness, and reconciliation is a process. Both abusers and abused are in need of on-going counseling, support and accountability.
  • In instances where abusers are unrepentant and/or unwilling to make significant steps toward change, we believe that the Christian community must respond with firm discipline of the abuser and advocacy, support and protection of the abused.
  • We believe that the church must offer tender concern and care for the abused and must help the abused to find hope and healing through the gospel. The church should do all it can to provide ongoing counseling and support for the abused. The wounds of abuse run deep and so patience and mercy are needed over the long-haul as the church cares for the abused.
  • We believe abusers need to confess their crimes both to civil and church authorities, to repent of their sin, and to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and forgiveness from their sin.

This is an improvement. I’m glad they removed the bit about the victim needing ongoing accountability. That was one of the most awful things in the first statement.

But I’m uncomfortable when they talk about the abused finding healing “through the gospel”. That can offend the abused who already believe the gospel and are therefore genuine Christians.

I’m very glad they have removed the bit about the abuser needing ongoing counseling and support.

“We believe abusers need to…repent of their sin, and to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.”
Question: Do they really believe that abusers cannot be Christians? I hope so. But I very much doubt it.


  • We believe that by the power of God’s Spirit, the Christian community can be an instrument of God’s love and healing for those involved in abusive relationships and an example of wholeness in a fractured, broken world.
  • We believe that by the power of God’s Spirit, the Christian church can be an instrument of God’s love and healing for those involved in abusive relationships and an example of wholeness in a fractured, broken world.

They changed “Christian community” to “Christian church”. That may be insignificant. But it might be a covert upholding of the notorious Church Covenant documents which 9Marks churches get their members to sign to try to prevent disaffected members suing the church for redress of spiritual abuse.

*Adopted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at its meeting in Lisle, Illinois in November, 1994.
*Adopted by the CBMW Board of Directors March 12, 2018
This new statement is only adopted by the Board of Directors, not the whole Council. I’m not sure how significant that is.

The male-privileged leaders of CBMW are dragging their feet in facing facts.

Here are my further thoughts on some of the numbered points.

1. Their new definition of abuse

They left out coercive control by means of emotional, financial and spiritual abuse, gaslighting, isolation, micro-management of the victims’ daily lives. And they didn’t mention legal/systemic abuse which abusers can also employ in their arsenal of tactics (especially when the abused woman is getting divorced from her abusive husband).

3. The way they cited scripture implies that if a women doesn’t submit she is being abusive

They did not change the scriptures they cited here: “We believe that the biblical teaching on relationships between men and women does not support, but condemns abuse (Prov. 12:18Eph. 5:25-29Col. 3:181 Tim. 3:3Titus 1:7-81 Pet. 3:7; 5:3).”

So I will more or less repeat what I said in my Critique of the 1994 Statement, with a few added links.

Ephesians 5:25-29 tells husbands to love their wives, a command which clearly implies that it’s wrong to abuse their wives. Abuse and love are polar opposites; no-one would argue with that. But citing Colossians 3:18 (wives submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord) is below the belt. It implies that in the case of wives, being abusive and being submissive are polar opposites. Only CBMW, with their distorted understanding of the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16, think that way. They claim that the woman’s desire for her husband is a desire to usurp authority over him, and they base this claim solely on one author, ironically a female author, Susan Foh, who in 1975 advanced a totally novel interpretation of Genesis 3:16.

Foh noted syntactic and semantic parallels between Gen. 4:7 and Gen. 3:16 and concluded that the meaning of the two passages must be the same. Just as sin crouched on the threshold, desiring to destroy Cain, and Cain was told he must overrule this temptation, so the wife desires to control her husband (by usurping his divinely appointed authority) and the husband must master her if he can. This interpretation dovetails perfectly into the lying claim of the abusive husband (and his pastor ally) that the husband was harsh towards his wife because the wife wasn’t submissive. The perfect theological excuse for abuse!

Only if you accept Foh’s aberrant interpretation, one that no commentator had conceived of for the first 1900 years of the Christian era, do you swallow the notion that wifely in-submission is, by definition, abusive to husbands. There has been surprisingly little debate about Foh’s interpretation within complementarian circles; they have gladly accepted and promoted it, and I count this as reprehensible on their part.

How Susan Foh’s interpretation fed steroids to abusers.

A more plausible interpretation of Genesis 3:16 is that as a consequence of the Fall, woman would desire to be cherished by her husband (Eve would want Adam’s forgiveness and abiding love, despite her mistake with the forbidden fruit), but that man would be inclined to rule harshly over woman. (I am not the first to propose such a view; some others who have preceded are Les Galicinski and Henri Blocher, In The Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, Leicester and Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984, p 181-2.) That is that what we see all around the world: male abuse and violence against women—the elephant in the room that we have only recently begun to acknowledge.

The woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 — let’s be consistent with the context and with actual life.

When abuse is being perpetrated, it is perfectly acceptable and right for the victim (whatever their gender) to say to the abuser: “Stop abusing me!” Any right thinking spouse ought to submit to this imperative. There is nothing abusive in a victim telling her abuser that he is mistreating her and she wants him to stop! There is nothing abusive in a victim failing to submit to an abuser.

If a wife fails to submit to a reasonable request from a non-abusive husband, she may be being unwise, slightly foolish, lacking in consideration for family harmony, etc. But it’s wrong to claim she is “being abusive”. Yet this is exactly what CBMW do when they cite Colossians 3:18 as as condemnation of abuse. They’re implying that when a wife don’t submit, she’s being abusive. This is a gross slander of women that CBMW needs to repent of.

4.  CBMW now say “abuse is a crime,” which suggests they think that only physical or sexual assault count as “real” abuse.

Fact: A great deal of what domestic abusers do to their victims is not defined as criminal in many nations/states.

I know they mentioned “verbal abuse” in point 1. But abuse victims who have ever tried to get protection from abusers quickly find out that verbal abuse is seldom defined as a crime.

CBMW still have their heads in the sand. They still need to humble themselves and be educated by those who understand domestic abuse best: the survivors who have well and truly come out of the fog, and the secular professionals who work in domestic/family violence.

And the leaders at CBMW need to stop thinking that biblical counseling organizations can teach them about domestic abuse. Going by what I observe and hear from Christian victims, the majority of biblical counselors need to humble themselves and learn more before they will be competent to teach others about domestic abuse.

Numerous Christian women who have been abused by their husbands have told us that the teaching disseminated by these ‘highly respected’ CBMW leaders and Christian counselors has enabled their husbands to get away with abuse.

Some women have testified that emphatic teaching on biblical gender roles incited a not-too-bad husband to become a definitely abusive husband.

Many abused women  – more than we can count – have told us that when they reported their husband’s abuse to church leaders, the leaders futher abused them by siding with their abusive husbands. Often they promoted the husband to a higher leadership position.

Excommunication of the female victim is not uncommon in churches (particularly American churches that profess to have confessional Reformed theology). And when church leaders don’t actually excommunicate the abused woman, they often make it so uncomfortable for her to stay in the congregation that she leaves anyway.

Shaming and blaming of victims. Unjust slander. Failure to recognize and resist the manipulative tactic of the abusive man. These things are rife in the visible church.

6. Abusers do not need support or ongoing counseling.

Abusers need to be firmly held accountable and experience tough consequences for their bad conduct. The only thing which might work with some abusers is psycho-education, which is very different from counseling. “Might” is a key word there. And research on the longterm effectiveness of psycho-educational programs for abusers has not yet been done.

The Biblical principal is that God gave Cain one stern piece of advice, not ongoing counseling. And when Cain killed his brother, God gave him a lifelong punishment which included virtual banishment from human society.

6. They suggest that all victims of abuse are unregenerate

I’m uncomfortable when they talk about the abused finding healing “through the gospel”. The gospel, in its narrow sense, is given to bring the unregenerate to faith in Christ. “Repent, and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15)

If we take CBMW’s words in this narrow sense, they are implying that abuse victims are not regenerate, not born again, so they need to repent and come to saving faith in Christ. That is offensive to all the abused who are already true Christians.

If CBMW meant the gospel in the broader sense in which it is often used today, it would have been better if they’d said: “We believe that the church must offer tender concern and care for the abused and must help the abused to find hope and healing through Christ, the Word and the Spirit (Luke 4:18).” 

I’ve offered help to CBMW for years

In 2010 I published my Critique of their 1994 Statement on Abuse (at notunderbondage.blogspot which is no longer online). I emailed key leaders of CBMW to tell them about my critique. Randy Stinson (who was their Executive Officer or some such title) responded to my email. He told me that CBMW would be reviewing their Statement on Abuse. …Crickets.

The next thing that I noticed was around the time Owen Strachan took over the executive officer role. CBMW revamped their website and their 1994 Statement vanished. But Mary Kassian quoted it in full in her 2012 Statement on abuse on the day for the elimination of violence against women.  (I’ve save that link to the web archive in case it gets scrubbed from Mary Kassian’s site.)

Soon after Mary Kassian published that post, I republished my Critique of CBWM’s 1994 Statement on Abuse here on A Cry For Justice:

It is now 2018.  I am so angry they have taken this long to review their Statement on Abuse!

The evidence is indisputable: CBMW ignored the plight of victims for MANY MANY YEARS.

And now that #MeToo, #ChurchToo and #ChurchDV have gained traction, they are trying to play catch up.

All along, I had offered to help them. I reassured them that I’m not an egalitarian. I politely gave them suggestions. I encouraged and urged them to address domestic abuse better. And they impolitely ignored me. Ligon Duncan I’m looking at you. I gave you by hand a copy of my book and a few days later you told me you had liked the first three chapters and would be reading it all and would email me. Then silence.  John Piper I’m looking at you. I emailed and snail mailed you a copy of this post. You and your staff ignored me. I sent review copies of my book to several men who were in leadership at CBMW. They ignored it. Or they sent the book on to CCEF…. as if my book is about counseling! My book is about the doctrine of divorce. But I’m a woman and in CBMW’s world any woman who writes a book about doctrine is likely to be shunned…unless she writes about ‘biblical womanhood’.


Further reading on Genesis 3:16

The change of Genesis 3:16, ESS, the colonial code of relationship, and a call to bystanders – Barbara Roberts

Dr Janson Condren talks about Bible translations and the original meaning of Genesis 3:16b – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED — this is very easy to read.

Towards a Purge of the Battle of the Sexes, and “Return” for the original meaning of Genesis 3:16b – Janson C Condren.

How Should We Understand “Her Desire” in Genesis 3:16b? – Hank Miller

Complementarity Without Subordination: What Does it Look Like? – Barbara Roberts

Further reading on Paige Patterson and the SBC

Analysis: Paige Patterson’s Teachings on Domestic Violence Keep Victims in Harm’s Way – Julie Anne Smith

Not Only Did Paige Patterson Rejoice When a Woman Was Physically Abused By Her Husband, He Refused to Believe 25 Reports of Sexual Abuse by Darrell Gilyard — The Wartburg Watch

Paige Patterson and Doing the Right Thing for the SBC, Again  – Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today

Southern Baptist leader’s advice to abused women sends leaders scrambling to respond – Sarah Pulliam Bayley, Washington Post

The Scandal Tearing Apart America’s Largest Protestant Denomination – Jonathan Merritt, The Atlantic

The Contaminated Pulpit and Other Weird Things – by Wade Burleson, 2008. A quote from this article:

The pulpit from behind which Dr. Bullock spoke was eventually removed from Southwestern’s chapel under orders of the new President of SWBTS, Dr. Paige Patterson.  Dr. Patterson explained to those he had to remove it because “it had been contaminated by a woman preaching behind it.”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolution on Domestic Violence (1979) They have not made any resolutions on it since then!

Southern Baptist leader who advised abused women not to divorce doubles down, says he has nothing to apologize for – Sarah Pulliam Bayley, Washington Post

Paige Patterson and a culture that breeds a generation of abusers – Rebecca Davis

Letter from Southern Baptist women, PLEASE SIGN if you are from the SBC! Letter to SWBTS Board of Trustees

Harem Building – the revealing patriarchy at Paige Patterson’s seminary – Tim Fall

We are shocked’: Thousands of Southern Baptist women denounce leader’s ‘objectifying’ comments, advice to abused women – Sarah Pulliam Bayley, Washington Post

Conservative evangelical women are calling out a leader’s sexism. It’s a huge moment for #MeToo. – Vox.com

“Deep Down I Was Scared.” Dr. Sheri Klouda about Her Time at SWBTS under Dr. Paige Patterson – guest post on Wade Burleson’s blog

So You Believe in the Inerrancy of God’s Word, Bully for You – by Paige Patterson

A Recent Southwestern Baptist Seminary Graduate Urges Paige Patterson to Resign – John Fea

Paige Patterson on Domestic Violence: Audiofile Transcript and Resource Links – Spiritual Sounding Board.

Recent items from Comp leaders on divorce, and how some men treat women 

Russell Moore says Yes, Abuse Warrants Divorce – this post shows several tweets by Russell Moore in which he states that abuse is grounds for divorce but he also tells victims what to do (which is a no-no). Please note that Russell Moore has a track record of supporting C J Manahey so we do not endorse Russell Moore. But it’s interesting that he does believe abuse is grounds for divorce.

What about divorce and abuse? – Denny Burk

Loving Our Sisters in All Purity – Denny Burk. He says: “Paul doesn’t say that Timothy should treat women as ‘temptresses in all purity’ nor as ‘inferiors in all purity.’ Timothy must treat them as sisters in all purity. A leader has an obligation to get this balance correct.”

Shepherds Protect the Flock: Five Changes Pastors Need to Make in Addressing Abuse in the Church

A guest post by an American pastor.

In his excellent book on pastoral ministry, Timothy Witmer proposes four duties of the pastor. Taking his cues from the Bible, he uses the image of a shepherd to describe these duties. A shepherd must know the flock, feed the flock, lead the flock, and protect the flock.

Witmer’s main idea of protecting the flock is geared toward protecting doctrine. A shepherd must warn and rebuke sheep who are being led astray by unbiblical teachings. But perhaps we should also take a more literal understanding of this duty. A shepherd must use the authority he has to protect those in the church who are oppressed. And this is no more applicable than in situations of abuse. Pastors must protect the sheep from those who would do harm, regardless of whether the harm is doctrinal, physical, emotional, spiritual, or sexual. Here’s my contention for this article: pastors should take the lead in protecting the abused and in exposing the abusers.

In order for this to take place, we pastors must examine ourselves and how we think about abuse in the church. If we are passive, we will fail to lead. If we are well-meaning but ignorant, we will fail to understand and take action. If we are fearful, we will take the easy road and avoid confrontation. But if we are faithful shepherds, we will stand up for justice, protect and empower the abused, and stand up to oppressors. As Proverbs 25:26 reminds us, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.”

So, what must we do? How can we, as under-shepherds of the flock of God, protect the flock from those who would abuse precious children of God? I propose five changes we need to make.

First, we must reconsider our theological perspective.

In seminary I was taught that there are no biblical grounds for divorce. This is called the permanence view of marriage. I felt uncomfortable with the idea and yet I accepted it. The professors obviously knew the Bible better than I did, and who was I to disagree? But gradually, I came to see that much of what passed for biblical scholarship were exercises in how to be stricter than Jesus and more conservative than the Bible. Through much study, I eventually came to see that the exceptions Jesus and Paul provided for divorce were given to protect the afflicted.

But this was quite the opposite of our theological perspectives… we were inadvertently empowering those who were oppressive! Those who were abusers! I regret to reveal to you that I once sat across from a woman who had divorced her husband because of physical abuse and told her, as compassionately as I could, that physical abuse was not a biblical ground for divorce. I’m glad she knew better, even though she didn’t know the theology to back herself up.

I won’t, at this time, lay out a case for the biblical grounds of divorce. However, I now believe that abuse is a biblical ground for divorce. In changing my view, I don’t think I’ve become less biblical, but more biblical. You don’t have to come to the exact same conclusions I have in order to protect victims of abuse, but I would ask you to prayerfully examine your understanding of Scripture on this issue. Does your view protect the abuser or the victim? If it tends toward protecting the abuser, then I would contend you should either reconsider your view or diligently research how you can hold to your view and at the same time protect the oppressed in your church. We must protect the flock among us.

Second, we must recognize the characters.

I consider myself a terrible judge of character and experience seems to bear this out. However, there are key indicators for recognizing those who are abusers and those who are abused. Through much reading I became aware of these indicators and it was amazing how quickly things began to line up in my understanding.

I vividly remember a counseling session between a husband and wife. The woman was quiet and unsure of herself. She had trouble explaining what exactly the problem was. She knew there was a problem, but she couldn’t articulate what it was. She seemed like she wanted to work things out. She was eager for individual counseling, but very resistant to couples counseling.

The man on the other hand was quite confident and self-assured. He was ready and willing to confess his sins (or at least some of them). He was a champion of grace! Yes, he had messed up. But surely, since God forgives us fully and freely in Christ, so should his wife. He was resistant to individual counseling, but eager for couples counseling. After all, they were married and if they were going to work on their marriage, they needed to work on their marriage together.

As pastors deal with situations of abuse we can begin to experience something like “the fog” that those who are abused experience. There have been times I’ve questioned myself… Am I crazy? Am I just imagining things? Other leaders who have been with me had struggled with the same doubts. In those cases, if we hadn’t had one another, we likely would have fallen prey to those questions and ignored the issues. We stuck together and helped one other. And each time we came close to thinking we were actually the crazy ones, a new bit of information would come out that reinforced our commitment to the woman being abused.

Thankfully, the articles I read and the professionals I talked to helped to lift the fog from my mind and I was able to think clearly. Then it all began making sense. All of it matched up to what I’d discovered regarding the abuser and the abused. It all seemed so simple.

Pastors, if we’re going to protect our flock against abuse, we need to recognize the characters.

Third, we need to regain an understanding of the reality of evil.

I believe in the doctrine of total depravity. That means that every aspect of our humanity has been tainted by sin. Before I encountered abuse in the church, I’m not sure I truly understood the reality of evil that could take place in the midst of the church. Often, we in the church are so quick to identify and denounce sin outside of the church. Evil is that which takes place outside off the church, not within it, right?

I had to experience it firsthand to discover this truth: real evil exists sometimes within the church. Even during “the fog” I didn’t quite believe it, but it has become clear. As time has gone on I have come to see that abuse is evil. Wicked. Of the devil. There’s no other way to describe it. The abuser, then, must be confronted as one who is working evil against a precious lamb in the flock of God.

We won’t easily come to this conclusion if we think that evil people are simply outside the church. Perhaps this is one area by which we have been infected by our culture. Why are we so reluctant to call something evil for which no other description will do? The Scripture in Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” But we have failed in this: we have hesitated in calling evil, “evil”!

One challenge you may face is that people will call evil anything but evil. They’ll call it lack of communication. They’ll call it personality. They’ll call it misunderstanding. They’ll call it anything and everything except what it actually is: evil.

But if we are to protect the flock, we will have to identify evil and label it. We will have to call evil, “evil”. We will need to regain an understanding of the reality of evil… and know that it can sometimes take place in the church.

Fourth, we need to reassess our pastoral capacity.

As I mentioned previously, pastors feel “the fog” when dealing with abuse cases, especially if it’s all new to them. When I first encountered abuse, it was like walking through a pitch-dark, unfamiliar room. The truth is I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t competent. I didn’t have the capacity to deal with it myself.

In fact, without the advice of professional Christian counselors I don’t think I would have stayed the course of protecting the flock. Without them I very likely would have gone down the wrong path, ignoring the signs and turning a blind eye to abuse.

I learned from these counselors that you can’t do couples counseling in an abusive situation (The abuser hates that, by the way). I learned from them the signs of an abuser. They helped me put the pieces of the puzzle together. They helped blow away the fog of confusion and uncertainty. When I wasn’t sure, they were, and it gave me confidence.

I also had elders, and for this I am immensely thankful. Without them I may have caved, and without me they may have caved. If we hadn’t been together, on the same page, we likely would have failed to protect the one who was being abused. That’s what I mean. We need to reassess our pastoral capacity. We need others. Others who are educated and skilled in the areas of abuse. And for those times of wavering we need brothers and sisters to hold us up. To stand with us. To not give up no matter what the cost will be.

In fact, there may come a point at which you’ll have to decide what loss you’re willing to take to protect the flock. Will you stand your ground no matter the cost? If the whole church collapses? If you lose your reputation? You probably won’t be able to make that stand alone. If you reassess your own pastoral capacity, you’ll likely conclude that you need a team of counselors, leaders, and faithful friends in order faithfully protect the flock from abuse.

Fifth, we need to revamp our approach.

I haven’t done everything perfectly in abuse situations. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I have regrets. Two stand out in my mind.

The first regret is this: In some cases, the church leadership should have worked more quickly to remove the abuser from the church. Even if pastors and church leaders know enough to move toward removal, there may be an internal pressure to wait… to see if the man will repent… to make sure you aren’t making a mistake. Admittedly, this is a difficult call. However, looking back I can see instances in which we should have moved more quickly to remove an abuser from the church.

Here’s why: Often an abuser will make attempts to broaden the circle of those in the know. He will work to gain allies, often good men, but good men who aren’t aware of the whole truth. Although some allies of abusers are abusers themselves, some are ignorant of the circumstances and have the best of intentions. They mean well, but often they are deceived because of their reasonability and goodwill toward the abuser. Moving more quickly can help minimize the damage done to these good men and to the church as a whole.

The second regret is that in some cases we should have named the abuse earlier and more explicitly, especially to the congregation. The word abuse is taboo in the American church. No one wants to say it even if it’s taking place. We try to reserve it for what we view as extreme cases, as if all abuse isn’t extreme. Some reserve the term for physical abuse only, but we should consider that abuse takes many forms (spiritual, emotional, verbal, sexual, etc.) and all of them are serious and wicked.

Naming abuse explicitly accomplishes a couple of things. First, it educates the congregation. It educates them that abuse includes more than simply physical harm. It educates them that abuse is real and present even in the most theologically astute, devotionally vibrant, or morally strict churches. It educates them that abuse must be called out… must be named… must be exposed.

Second, naming abuse explicitly helps the congregation know how to relate to the abuser and the one being abused. This is a difficult call, and specific to each situation. But in many situations a congregation can be helped to think through these relationships more clearly. In order to protect the whole flock and not simply one member of the flock, we will need to inform the church of the evil schemes of the abuser. If they’re not informed it’s more likely that they will be confused about how to relate to each of the persons involved. If confusion exists, it is possible that the abuser will continue to be welcomed and the victim will be further alienated.

Pastors have been given a great responsibility. We’re reminded of it in Paul’s words to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:28–32:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

The church of God that we are called to care for has been obtained with his own blood, the blood of Jesus Christ. Our task will prove challenging at times. Cases of abuse, no doubt, will often prove to be beyond our own abilities. Our work is often filled with triumphs, but also with tears. But we can be confident of this: that Christ endured much more for our sake and for the sake of his church. He gave his very life for the protection and salvation of his flock. And now, we as under-shepherds have been given the task of reflecting, in some way, the sacrifice of the Great Shepherd. We do so not by our own strength or for our own glory, but as those who have been commended to God and to the word of his grace, which will build us up and give us the inheritance all God’s people are promised.

The question I’ll leave you with, then, is this: What will you need to do in order to faithfully protect the flock of God among you, especially when it comes to abuse?


The ACFJ team are very grateful to the pastor who wrote this post for us! We hope it will be shared widely.

For further reading:

As a pastor, what are the most important things for me to know about domestic abuse? — this is one of our FAQ pages.

Finding Rest — sermon by Ps Sam Powell


…the simple man believes that everyone is good. Everyone is well-meaning. That this kind of evil doesn’t actually exist. “People don’t just lie. He looked me straight in the eye. People just don’t hurt each other for fun. No one is like that. People don’t just slander and attack and destroy reputations for no reason, for funzies. He isn’t a fool, he’s just misunderstood.” Or “He lashes out because he’s hurting.” Or “He looked me straight in the eye and said he was sorry.” As if being sorry for bringing forth rotten fruit is the same as bringing forth good fruit. 

Finding Rest
Proverbs 1:10-33 (KJV)
Ps Sam Powell
(Scripture reading: Matthew 11:16-30)

My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.

If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:

Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit:

We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil:

Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:

My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path:

For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.

Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.

And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives.

So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:

She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying,

How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?

Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.

Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;

But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:

I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;

When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:

For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord:

They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.

For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.

But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.


You can listen to this sermon by clicking on the link above.