The Most Terrifying Reality About the Abuser/Sociopath
Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Christians think that they “get” Jesus’ warning. Sheep. Wolf. Ok, got it. Not too hard. One is woolly and the other has big teeth. I think they sound different too.
But we don’t get it. Wolves don’t come as wolves. They come as sheep. And they can even mimic the “bah’s” pretty well too.
We think we get it. And largely, that is our problem. That is why abusers are hiding out successfully in the church. It is why they are winning entire churches to their alliance against their victims. We should get it. Jesus said that to discern between wolves and sheep, requires wisdom. Exceptional wisdom. A crafty, sly wisdom. We don’t have that. We aren’t like serpents. We are, hmmmm….. , dumb as sheep, and innocent as doves.
In Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery [*Affiliate link] (Read it if you haven’t. Did you hear that? Read it), Herman discussed captivity as a special kind of trauma. It isn’t a single traumatic event – it is continuous. In captivity, the victim is the perpetrator’s prisoner. She writes (Chapter 3) –
- “The domestic captivity of women and children is often unseen. A man’s home is his castle. Rarely is it understood that the same home may be a prison for women and children. In domestic captivity, physical barriers to escape are rare. In most homes, even the most oppressive, there are no bars on the windows, no barbed wire fences…. The barriers to escape are generally invisible. They are nonetheless extremely powerful. Children are rendered captive by their condition of dependency. Women are rendered captive by economic, social, psychological, and legal subordination, as well as by physical force…. In situations of captivity, the perpetrator becomes the most powerful person in the life of the victim, and the psychology of the victim is shaped by the actions and beliefs of the perpetrator.
She continues –
- Little is known about the mind of the perpetrator. Since he is contemptuous of those who seek to understand him, he dos not volunteer to be studied. Since he does not perceive that anything is wrong with him, he does not seek help — unless he is in trouble with the law. His most consistent feature, in both the testimony of victims and the observations of psychologists, is his apparent normality. Ordinary concepts of psychopathology fail to define or comprehend him. [emphasis is mine]. This idea is deeply disturbing to most people. How much more comforting it would be if the perpetrator were easily recognizable, obviously deviant or disturbed. But he is not.… many [are] terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality is much more terrifying than all [his] atrocities put together. His demeanor provides an excellent camouflage, for few people believe that extraordinary crimes can be committed by men of such conventional appearance.
It turns out, you see, that it isn’t quite so simple to spot a wolf among the flock. The most frightening and terrifying reality about the abuser is his shocking normalcy. And yet, of all people, Christians have less excuse for our ignorance. We have Christ in us, we have His Spirit, we have His Word. We should be experts on sin, yet innocent in regard to it. We in reformed churches claim that we believe in the total depravity of man, but in practice we deny it. We think too highly of ourselves and of mankind in general. And so, we fall for the abuser’s “normalcy” and welcome him in among us. When his victim finally is able to raise an alarm, we don’t believe her. We even condemn her for saying such things about here very normal husband (or, sometimes, wife).
Every Christian needs to take another look at what our Lord tells us in His Word about the heart of man. We need to stop making foolish judgments based upon appearances. Our seminaries would do well to step up their teaching on the doctrine and nature of sin. But of course, that will require teachers who truly know what evil is, because they themselves have met it.