There is No Neutrality, No “Innocent” Bystander When We See Abuse

(John 7:12-13  ESV)  And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

Let us hear what Judith Lewis Herman says about this kind of silence which is, in practice, a kind of neutrality:

The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma….When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails….

Witnesses as well as victims are subject to the dialectic of trauma….

….when the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides.

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering….”The weakest one….remains the losing party in this silent and unequal dialogue.”

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.
(Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror [Affiliate link]. Judith Herman, Basic Books: 1997.)

So there it is.  Whether the abuser is a raging husband or a raging political dictator, each one works his own scale of terror upon his victims, and the tactics are remarkably similar. Judith Herman’s book is excellent and one that should help abuse victims recover.

As Herman notes, there is no neutrality in the trauma of abuse. The bystander — that’s you and me — cannot merely by-stand. To do so is to choose, and the choice is for the abuser. Evil only asks that we remain quiet and still. Divert our eye and go on about our business. This is at least part of the explanation for the blank stare and tic of discomfort we see in people when we talk to them about abuse.  Bystanders know that to acknowledge the reality of abuse and the plight of the victim is to force a choice between good and evil, right and wrong. To stand with the victim on the other hand is to be required to take action, to pay a price, to take on a share of the victim’s burden. Normally, the perpetrator wins as bystanders choose for him by turning away and just forgetting. This is why an innocent person can be mugged or even murdered on a public street in front of witnesses, and no one does anything.

Christians do not have the option of remaining neutral and thus choosing the side of evil. Our King has not given us that option. If we will not confess Jesus and His cause before men, then He will deny us before the Father. Here all around us are victims, usually women, being terrorized, beaten, treated like slaves or worse, raped and sodomized – here they are. That is what we are saying in this blog. That is what more and more Christians who have suffered at the hands of abusers are saying — and they are beginning to shout it.  It is enough. Enough of the church turning a blind eye, choosing the side of the abuser, and sending the victim away into the hinterlands. The King is sick of it. He calls us to repent, and if we will not, He will spew us out of His mouth like lukewarm, putrid milk.

[August 10, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to August 10, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 10, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 10, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 10, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

10 thoughts on “There is No Neutrality, No “Innocent” Bystander When We See Abuse”

  1. I’m doing some research for my review piece (which will be Fireproof [Internet Archive link]1). It looks like you are at war with Bill Gothard. I have to go back and watch the ending again to make sure it was exact, but I think one of the lines in “Fireproof” may have been taken verbatim from this document. The concepts here were said, resaid, and said again in “Fireproof”.

    Marriage as a Spiritual Covenant [Internet Archive link]

    1[August 10, 2022: We added the link to the Wikipedia page on the 2008 movie, Fireproof, mentioned in Barnabasintraining’s comment. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

    1. Actually I don’t know much about Bill Gothard. I remember the era of all of his seminars. I don’t think I would recommend him as I think that simple, black and white, “do this, don’t do that” formulas for family and marriage and the Christian life slip into legalism easily. Looking forward to your review!

  2. Jeff, what you say about Gothard’s teachings is good. A friend of mine used to say that the good in Gothardism can be gotten elsewhere from better sources.

    We were heavily influenced by Gothard at one time. The principles can keep a person in extremely dangerous, abusive situations much longer than necessary. That is because of its emphasis on a person yielding their rights, combined with the idea that God will lead you through the chain of command. So, everything that is done to you through your leaders is God’s will. That kind of thing can be a perfect set up for an abuser to keep his or her victim beaten down. That is not to say that all who follow Gothardism are abusive.

    In fact, it was our pastor — a strong Gothard follower — who rescued us from our dangerous, abusive situation. So, I have mixed feelings about his teachings. I still think that it is better to get the good in Gothardism from other, safer sources.

    1. Thank you, I really appreciate your insights from you experience. I am not surprised. I knew a family a long time ago that was heavily into Gothard and they did not turn out well over the years. There was just something “wrong” in that home – you could sense it. I am sure that is not the same with all who have been involved with him, but the legalism and formulas and tradition taught as God’s Word is dangerous.

  3. I have watched this happen in family members of the victim — males who should be exercising normal, natural male protectiveness, but oh no they are neutral! However, what the rest of us see is that they are neutered! But if you grab them by the shirt front and loudly proclaim “Grow a pair!” you will be arrested as an abuser yourself. There isn’t enough manhood in them to handle the fact that you are challenging them to stand for truth and righteousness. And, unfortunately, you can’t grow a pair for someone else, it has to be something they want to do. Doing so will cost them. Thus, regardless [of] the harm their “neutrality” costs their victimized family member, remaining NEUTERED is less expensive and [is] preferable as they continue to delude themselves that they, quite self-righteously of course, aren’t taking sides.

    Let’s not dance around it. If you are the victim and a male (family member, friend or spiritual advisor) sanctimoniously states that he is remaining ‘neutral’, recognize that this male has willingly offered up the parts that could have identified him as a “man” on the altar of appeasing the abuser for the benefits (staying in the good graces) the abuser provides. Whether you choose to voice this revelation to Mr Neutered is between you and God, but you’ll at least know Mr Neutered probably isn’t all that safe to be around and choose your interaction with him carefully.

    1. And they overcame him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Rev 12:11)

      In law and in religion, “Testimony” is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter.

      This seperates the “follower of truth” from the neutral cowards, because the cowards are fearful and want to appease, rather than confront the evil.

      The Bible states that the righteous are bold as a lion, but the wicked flee when no one pursues.

  4. From Pastor Jeff’s original post:

    Whether the abuser is a raging husband or a raging political dictator, each one works his own scale of terror upon his victims, and the tactics are remarkably similar.

    Neutrality stands on the sidelines, wringing their hands and saying, “But….but….but….”.

    Taking a stand doesn’t have to be a blatant act of overt heroism, nor does courage have to be akin to running into a house afire.

    The stand taken depends on the individual.

    Asking a non-swimmer to jump in and rescue a drowning victim, rather than notifying the nearby lifeguard or assessing the surroundings for something of assistance is foolish.

    A victim / survivor might quietly provide another victim / survivor with a list of resources tucked surreptitiously into a hand or pocket. (Sounds almost James Bond-ish, doesn’t it?)

    A friend might quietly provide much needed financial assistance to the victim / survivor, a covert action to protect the victim / survivor from escalation.

    A next door neighbour might watch for a pre-arranged signal indicating a request to call the police.

    These actions aren’t cowardly, nor are they neutral. They are just….quiet.

    Dictators and abusers can fall through quiet revolution. Not everyone is cut out to be “the hero”.

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