A Cry For Justice

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

When the “Church” Becomes the Enemy

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.

***

A very common theme in the stories that you all tell us is that your church did not help you.  Your church added to your suffering, gave you foolish counsel, and in the end sided with your abuser rather than with you.  You have all heard that same old story over and over again if you have been visiting this blog very long.  Thankfully there are some exceptions in which an abuse victim’s pastor and church stood with her.  But those are the exceptions, and they are rare.  In telling her story of her “awakening moment,” Kay made this statement – (see her whole story in the post “Tell us about your realization….”) –

“I hadn’t been strong enough or had enough courage to say ENOUGH to my husband, Christian friends, pastors, counselor, who insisted our marriage could be healed until that moment. I still hoped at times he would change, but one day, driving in the car, I begged God , “please don’t make me live with him again”. I heard a peaceful, quiet voice – you don’t have to.”

This process went on for decades – and that is not unusual either.  Actually, I suspect that Kay was indeed far more courageous and strong in all of those years than she might give herself credit for, but we understand what she means.  The fog, the confusion, the deceit.  Now, what jumps out at me in her statement here is that in order to finally leave her abuser, she not only had to be strong enough to stand against him, but to stand against her Christian friends, her pastors, and her counselor, all of whom were telling her to stay with the abuser and fix the marriage.  And that just grieves me to no end – that Kay and so many others have to have their suffering intensified and prolonged.  The church becomes her enemy in that case.

When the “church” becomes the enemy of righteousness and justice and mercy for the oppressed, what has the church become?  That is a thought and a question that, frankly, makes my gut get all tied up in a knot.  How is it that we have come to the point of exalting marriage and family over mercy to the oppressed?  So that we call a monstrosity that is no marriage or family at all, a marriage and family that MUST be preserved?

Do you know – many of you probably do – that probably the single most controversial hot-topic that we have addressed on this blog and which has resulted in us receiving more nasty responses than any other is – teaching that an abuse victim can divorce her abuser.  When we quoted John MacArthur and John Piper and the ESV study Bible (Wayne Grudem)  and R.C. Sproul – men that we take no delight in criticizing – and showed without a doubt that they teach that God does not permit an abuse victim to divorce her abuser, we actually had to take our link to Facebook off because we didn’t want to deal with all of the nastiness being shot at us from supposed Bible-believing Christians.  The “church” became our enemy.

This just boggles common reason and common sense.  How is it possible that our study of the Bible could lead us to insist that a woman who is being abused – even beaten, having a gun pointed at her, raged against – cannot divorce her tormentor just because he hasn’t physically committed adultery or physically thrown her out of the house?   How is that?  I cannot fathom it.  And yet the “church” is our enemy on this.  We have to block the nasty responses to our teaching on this so that you don’t have to be subjected to them in this blog environment.  And these people that do this say they are Christians.

Many abuse victims tell us that they have been so wounded by their churches after they pleaded for justice and help in dealing with their professing-Christian abusers, that they just cannot bring themselves to return to a church – at least right now.  I can hear more “helpful” Christians start quoting Hebrews 10:25, spouting off about how we are not to forsake the gathering together of the saints so we can encourage one another to love and good deeds.  Well, what happens when that gathering together doesn’t encourage, but discourages and oppresses and enslaves?  Is that the environment the Scripture calls us to not forsake?  I don’t think so.

Well, I feel my blood pressure rising and when that happens my tact and kindness level starts to fall, so I had better end here by just restating the question – what does a Christian do when the church becomes our enemy?  Thankfully, as Kay testifies, the Lord Jesus is ALWAYS our Friend.  And so are those who truly known Him.  He always has His remnant.

18 Comments

  1. Diana Stooshnov

    Very well put…..

    My personal feeling is that if a church will side with the abuser, then it is not a bible believing church, Abuse vicitims need to be safe and keep their children safe……no where in the Bible does it say to stay with someone who is hitting you, punching you, threatening you, and insulting you. Christ would have rebuked any of this on the spot. No discussion.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Diana, very much. It really feels great to have backup on this instead of attack. We hesitate to say it, but the fact is that you have stated the truth. Any “church” that will side with the abuser cannot be a true church. I mean, I had no training at all – and neither did almost all of our readers – in the nature and tactics of abuse. And yet, over time, Christ by His Spirit showed us what was right and what was wrong. In a true church it is the evil one who must depart from us, because he/she is not of us (I John). So, if it is the victim, the really righteous brother or sister who has to be forced to leave a “church” then what does that say about that “church”? It says exactly what you said – it is not a Bible-believing church. When I mention to pastors that I conclude that an abuse victim can divorce her abuser (based mostly on 1 Cor 7), a blank, fearful stare comes over their face, as if to say – “No, you can’t mean that!” What has happened to us? When did we lose our mind?

  2. Jenn

    Simply; thank you.

  3. cindy burrell

    I am so glad you wrote this. I was just working this over in my mind this week.

    The sad truth is that the church will praise you as long as you endure the pain and humiliation of living with an abuser. Conversely, they will shun and condemn you if you leave it.

    What it really sad is that I have more regret, guilt and grief over the fact that I (and my children) endured the abuse for so long – in the name of marriage and family. I have no regret that I left. That was the beginning of healing.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thus, what does that say about the nature of the “church”? Christ said to the 7 churches of Asia (well, except for Smyrna and Philadelphia) that unless they repented, He would depart from them. That means they would no longer be a church. It is the equivalent of the glory of God departing from the temple in Ezekiel’s day. What is the name? Ichabod? The church today is Ichabod – or very, very close to it. What abuse victims and other true Christians are actually departing from is most probably not the church but in fact they are the church that is departing from that which became apostate long before.

  4. Yes, church folk, pastors, Christian leaders all nod sagely about how sad it is that domestic abuse happens (… as if it just happens abstractly, without an abuser actually DOING it).

    But when the rubber hits the road and someone says “The abused person can divorce the abuser,” the walls go up, the glazed look comes into their eyes, they flinch in horror or incomprehension, and then they go onto auto-pilot and default to the “No-Divorce-Unless-Adultery-or-Desertion” position. So the one proclaiming freedom becomes, in their eyes, a heretic.

    People just don’t want to see the evil that’s going on under their noses.

    And most survivors who have left their abuser report that the response of their church caused them unexpected, phenomenal pain; pain which is as hard to recover from as the pain the Abuser caused.

    • Jeff Crippen

      At least all of us who have suffered in this way at the hands of what claims to be the church, know that this horrific state of affairs exists and we are no longer bouncing along oblivious to it, filling our time with church socials, Christmas plays, and all of the other trappings of that denial. Christ has enabled us, through hard and painful experience, to acknowledge that something is terribly wrong and that not all of the world’s complaints about professing Christianity are completely out to lunch.

  5. kaydtay

    Jeff – thank you for the affirming things you said about my post. In writing a short version of a very complicated situation, I did not share something, I would like to share now. After a time , I saw friends and pastors in my church “get it”. My two friends, actually read parts of “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” and said, they didn’t realize how bad it was for me. I think it’s very hard for people to see a different truth about a person they THINK they know. I recently met with one of my pastors about being part of a ministry to reach out to suffering women in our church and community. When I found this website, I was so thankful to know you are out there helping victims of abuse. I hope I can help other women too.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thankyou for encouraging us, Kay. I hope that as the days go by all of us will be able to see some of our Christian friends awakened as well. It would be wonderful to find that an increasing number of pastors are beginning to real this blog site and learn. By the Lord’s enablement, we will see a difference one day.

  6. Anonymous

    One thing I did not expect to face as I left my long-term marriage was the betrayal of the Christian community. I did not expect to feel the anger and grieve over the loss of my church family. My secular counsellors did not prepare me for it as they didn’t know the additional issues and spiritual abuse that Christians come against when they grapple with domestic abuse. Now some of the secular organizations are beginning to refer Christian clients to Christian support groups because they realize there is a gap they cannot fill.

    The other thing that I am beginning to see is that Christian bystanders who become his allies are also his victims because they are deceived by him. I now regard my former church as his victim as well because the leaders walk around eggshells, and try to appease him because they think he is better as a partner than as an “ex”. One day, when they recognize the evil tactics of abuse, and when they make the break with him, they may open that Pandora’s box of spiritual abuse and everything else that enabled them to spawn, and be a haven for, abusive husbands.

    I honestly don’t know which comes first – recognizing the dynamics of abuse, or recognizing false teaching and spiritual abuse. I just know they are closely related.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, when we disobey Christ and refuse to proclaim His truth without our additions or subtractions, we embrace a false gospel (Galatians 1) that creates a false church. It becomes a monstrosity and does all kinds of damage to people. I suppose the first thing then that must be done in a reformation is the recognition of the false doctrine, the lies, that we have embraced. I am sorry that you had to experience all of this betrayal, but at the same time you now understand the terrible condition the evangelical church is in today and why faithfulness to Christ’s Word is so vastly important. You are also able to comfort those who are suffering as you have suffered, and for all of this – you have grown immensely in your knowledge of Christ.

  7. It happens everywhere you confront a narcissist that his behavior is wrong. You will be the enemy (because, of course, HE is always the victim) as his friends gather around him in sympathy and support. They are still deceived, even though the abuses this man has committed are as clear as the nose on your face. When you stand up to the truth, you find out who your true friends are. They may be few and far between, but they will believe you, defend you, encourage you and love you. They will be the ones who say “you are not crazy.” Jesus is one of those friends. Scripture is full of his examples of compassion. Oh, and yes, he was abandoned when he confronted evil as well. He knows exactly how you feel.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Morven – Over the past 20 years of ministry in our present church, myself and our elders have faced this dynamic many times and it never gets less painful, though we understand it more accurately now. As we have had to stand against evil men (and sometimes women), numbers of whom I have no doubt were abusers, the same drama plays itself out. The evil man is never wrong – not at all nor in any way. He diverts attention from his own wickedness that we have confronted him with by attacking how “unloving” our method in confronting him was. He then works, with some success in every case, to gather his allies from among the flock. In some cases such people have led others out of the church when he finally departs. Myself and the elders are left with the reputation of being unkind, unmerciful, and way harsh in our dealings with people. As you say, the telltale sign that we are dealing with a narcissistic, unrepentant wolf in sheep’s clothing is that such a person never shoulders any guilt himself. Second, he lacks even the smallest amount of empathy for the pain that his evil has caused us and his victim. Third, there is never any real repentance – in numbers of these cases 10 or even 20 years have now passed. No repentance. They simply remove themselves to another church and rather quickly rise to prominence in the new setting. Those churches never (and I mean, never) contact us when he joins them. They simply believe what he says about us and welcome him with open arms. It is the very same dynamic that the abuse victim in a marriage experiences at the hands of her abuser and her church. How foolish we are.

  8. Jan Weber

    Thank you. I vividly remember sitting with a “Christian counselor,” thinking, “I’m dying here, and all you talk about is the marriage, the marriage, the marriage.” I think divorce is equated with failure, and the church hates to admit failure; it’s too complicated to explain in a sound bite, I found more compassion from non-Christians and stayed away from the church for a while until I was strong enough to shrug off the looks and the rejection of some. I now know I did the right thing, for myself and for my children, and I know that God is not mad at me but loves me unconditionally, which gives me the strength to be kind to my ex-husband and to seek out others who are going through similar circumstances.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Jan – Yes, marriage has been exalted beyond what God intended for it to be. Instead of something made for human beings, we are made slaves to it no matter how distorted and cruel it becomes. You are right on – the church hates to admit failure. But that is sheer hypocrisy. We are in the business of confessing our sins and repenting, recognizing that sin exists and that when it is in the church — as in the form of abuse — it must be confronted and exposed and repented of or dealt with biblically if there is no repentance. I am very, very glad you have come to the point now that you are at in your understanding and in knowing that the Lord does not condemn you. You are now in an excellent position to help others going through similar trials.

  9. I’m in a situation where the main joy I have in going to church is from the hymn singing. I am able to worship God then (though I’m sure some straight-laced people in the congregation squirm at my obvious joy and delight in the Lord). I rarely find anything else worthwhile, though I do have a few meaningful contacts during the coffee time afterwards, especially if I converse with those few who are awake or sympathetic to the issue of abuse. They are few and far between. I hope that by my conversation they may feel supported when the wagging tongues set-to against them and their own marital situations, like being separated from their own abusive husbands.

  10. kind of anonymous

    Just encountered the use of Heb. 10:25 thrown at me today.

    The church I’ve been loosely attending is not one which I’ve made any kind of complaint of abuse to directly. The new pastor seems a sincere guy. The former pastor and his wife moved away and he took over. Kind of glad because they were clueless and quick to buy into my husband being a bit dishonest in the way he was presenting himself, and to assume that I was just the problem because i was angry and overwrought. Poor guy, saddled with a wife like me. In fact when I told the pastor some of my issues, he became anxious and began expressing to me that their church had already had some tragedies hit it and they were stretched to the limit as far as what they could handle. No room at the Inn, huh? So I wasn’t as impressed with them as some were and not sorry they had left.

    The church is a typical small town church, lots of get togethers, sunday school, potluck. Parochial, full of nice people who bake casseroles, try to help others, and also people who are really sure that THEIR church is a really good example of what a church should be. In this community where everyone extends to everyone else, esp leaders, instant respect and credibility because of their title or christian standing, makes it impossible to tell the truth about a lot of things. Everyone likes their positive little community just the way it is.

    Anyhow, I ran into someone who I’d sort of begun a praying-together relationship with but backed off of, because i was working full time and finding myself unable to do anything but sleep after work most days. And also because during one of our meetings, she tried to shame me, because I was angry at God. She rebuked me for “railing against God” and then told me of a family member who had lost the opportunity to be a mother due to having to have her uterus removed. Apparently she thought that losing the chance to be a mother when that was this girls heart’s desire, was somehow a worse affliction than say, living for four years in terror that your own father might sexually assault you and being sick to your stomach all the time because of his unpredictable rages. I comprehend what a hard thing this would be to get past, wanting to be a mother all your life and then suddenly finding you can’t.. But I don’t think it compares to the long-lasting toll of long term abuse. I realized then that she likely could not help me.

    She didn’t even ask me about my childbearing situation and so never found out that I too had lost the ability to have any more children after my first one, though I wanted to. I nearly bled to death twice, and was forced to have a hysterectomy.

    Today she wanted to convey to me that even though I am tired, I should be going to church, because the bible says that we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. It’s a command, you know, she admonished me. She clearly believed she was properly holding me biblically accountable and confronting bs and disobedience in my life. My “BS” merely covers the fact that I am well aware that there is no point talking to anyone from that church or any other one, for the most part, about the things I am struggling with in my life. Had enough jugementalness to last me a life time. And despite that I am still able to receive truth when its spoken in love but have a hard time with ignorant blindness.

    So I am standing there and I think, should I even make one more attempt to explain what I see? I mean this church has some very nice, sincere people in it but it is as dead as a doornail. The one time I saw the Holy Spirit moving and there was an anointing on the worship, this dour faced elder walked up right after and quenched the Spirit by giving a little sermonette in a sombre voice on how we just have to accept that we will have struggles and tragedies in this life and must live with them and do our best to make it through them, etc. Seemed like he was trying to defend the low estate on which he lived as the best we can expect. It was like someone poured mud over the spiritual atmosphere in the church. I am sure the worship leaders that day realized it but no one else apparently did. There is even an almost heaviness there, probably due to unbelief.

    Personally I’d rather be somewhere there is faith, active step out on it faith, rather than an orthodox but dead church marked by polite stoicism. So I am thinking, how do I tackle this one? I attempted to describe to her that there has to be more to the meaning of fellowship than showing up, signing some songs, hearing a message that has little impact on your life and has no depth to it and then maybe hitting a restaurant and going home. I remarked that perhaps this fellowship was not the church for us, though without rancor or rudeness. She replied that even so, if we are going to leave, we ought to tell the pastor our feelings and why were aren’t coming. I said that I didn’t see how it would help. That’s one of those principles now in vogue, that you have to tell the pastor why you are leaving. I have virtually no relationship with our pastor, he’s never been at our house or us to his, so I don’t know why she thinks we owe him access to our innermost feelings about the church or our personal lives anyway. I find the church a bit too judgy anyhow. And I doubt we have the credibility for our thoughts to be important except to assure themselves that it can’t be that anything is wrong with the church. Its just not perfect.

    I came away from that meeting feeling a mixture of things. The urging me towards commandment centered obedience pulled at my desire to walk right before God and I felt convicted and unsettled; maybe I am not right to stay away. Maybe my problem is a bitter, sinful response pattern/malcontent attitude based in self pity and shame, and I have no excuse not to go and I am displeasing God. Maybe I am really walking in the flesh and not listening to the Spirit. Sigh.

    How could I tell her that going to her church makes me feel worse most of the time because I know that I could never be terribly real with most of the people there? That we had had encounters with a couple of sinful, manipulative pastors who had NEVER acknowldged their sin and who count on people like them, taking the side of the pastor and believing his story over ours? If we told them of our issues, they would next ‘scripturally” want us to get the issue settled and effect reconciliation with the dishonest christians in question. How do you do that with people who refuse to admit they lied, manipulated, put on performances of meek humble servanthood in front of others while being an absolute gorgon behind the scenes, etc? Its all about maintaining power, and image and has precious little to do with much else. And they think God doesn’t notice and even agrees with them.

    Well, that’s it – thanks my friend for making me feel as if I should do something that is almost impossible to do yet holding me accountable to look and act like I can do it no matter how it makes me feel or how real it is. The desire to be part of a church is there but I want it to be real in actuality not just appearances but I am not sure if one exists or if I’d recognize it if I came across it.-

    note, if you need to chop this because its too long I understand. Just spewing my sheer discouragement today over having this verse used on me. Boy do i feel disobedient right now.

    • Hi KoA, your comment is fine, I just added a few para breaks for ease of reading.

      Ugh that ‘friend’ is no friend. She ‘shoulded’ on you left right and centre. She is clearly in such deep fog of christianese follow-the-leader theology that whatever you tried to say to her she would only ‘should’ on you again. Walk away, is my suggestion.

      That church is dead, as you say. You may be one of the few if not the only awake Christian there. You won’t find any true fellowship there. I’ve been in churches like that, – nice and polite and usually ‘friendly’ on the surface, but no matter how many years I stayed, I never got any deeper with the people there. They are all just so cosy in their mutual complacency.

      You are NOT being disobedient to God by walking away from a church where Christ is not present. You are in fact listening to the promptings of the Spirit by walking away. Many of our readers here are like you: they want to go to a good church, but they can’t find one, and they can no longer bear being in a church which is dead and which deals unjustly with victims of abuse.

      You might end up just listening to the webcast of Jeff’s sermons. Click on the sermons tab at the top of the blog for instructions of how to do so. 🙂

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