Relating Abuse to Romans 13 and God’s Ordained Role of the Civil Government
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.
[February 24, 2023: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
[February 24, 2023: Caveat: We have readers from all over the world. The information in this post was written based on the United States Constitution and United States laws, so the information the post contains will not necessarily be applicable in other countries. Editors.]
“I was praised up and down for not calling the police but for contacting them first, for being a ‘Godly example’ of a Christian wife.”
This statement was made by a Christian wife and mother who found out that her professing Christian husband had been sexually molesting their daughter. Those praising her for not calling the police, but instead coming to them first, were the pastors of her church. I have had firsthand experience with a similar situation, and I can tell you that as pastors and as individual Christians, one of the first questions that comes to our minds when horrific things like this happen among us is: “Should we call the police? Are we required to report this to the civil authorities? What will happen if we do — to the perpetrator and to the victim?”
We Christians, thankfully, are not very used to having to report crimes among us to the police. It is a strange affair to us. We shouldn’t ever have to be in such a situation. But often we are. To expect otherwise is to live in denial — to live in a fantasy world.
Why do pastors and Christians and entire church boards sometimes (often?) fail to report abuse — both domestic and sexual? In most (all?) states, this reporting is mandatory. Doctors, counselors, pastors and others are required to report. It is a crime to fail to do so. So why do we try to get around it? In part, I think, it is simply because we are afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid what will happen. So there is fear.
But there is another reason, and I think that it is more prevalent than we might believe. It is our refusal to acknowledge that there is another divinely-ordained institution besides the church, and that institution is the civil government. Listen to the Apostle Paul tell it —
(Romans 13:1-7 ESV) (1) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (2) Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (3) For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, (4) for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (5) Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (6) For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. (7) Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
The government is an authority from God, instituted by God. Rulers are to serve as a terror to evil. The civil law exists so that men will fear the consequences of disobeying it. “He (the civil authority) is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” So here is a very, very important principle for the church and all of us to mark down very carefully:
The Christian church is not ordained by God to deal with violations of the civil (criminal) law. That role is delegated by God to the ruling civil authorities. Just as the government is not to dictate to the church in regard to our faith and practice, neither is the church to assume the duties of the civil government. When the church is aware that a violation of the criminal law has occurred, the matter must be reported to and handled by the civil authorities. The church has no venue in such cases.
So in all of the myriads of cases that abuse victims are sharing with us in which their churches and pastors failed to report domestic violence or sexual abuse, the church in those cases was taking upon itself authority in a matter that God has not given the church to handle. The church may (and must) help the victim. Protect her. Provide for her. Give her truthful counsel and help. But as far as dealing with the crimes of the abuser, the church must turn such matters over to the civil authorities. Help the victim. Report the perpetrator. That is a pretty good rule to follow. Not sure whether you are required to report a matter? Consult the police or local prosecutor and find out.
We Christians need to teach Romans 13 to our children and to one another. All of us need to know that God has ordained a fearful “sword” for those who choose to break the civil law. And in some ways, that civil law is merciless — as is the Law of God apart from Christ. When a law-breaker goes into the courtroom of the local courthouse and has to stand before the judge to answer for his crime and be sentenced, it is a fearsome setting. We may think that the law goes too soft on criminals and so it does in many cases. Nevertheless, it is a sobering and fearful experience to stand before a judge to give account for a crime.
And that is how God intends it to be.
Note: We received a comment in regard to this post, which I chose to “spam”. It does illustrate a bit of what I refer to in this post. The fellow is a professing Christian who sees Romans 13 as a favorite tool of totalitarian regimes, such as Hitler. Well, I don’t know what Hitler thought of Romans 13 — any Scripture can be perverted by evil men if they want. But I do know that seeing the civil authorities as a conspiring enemy that is out to destroy religious freedom — also plays into the enemy’s hands. Yes, we do have to stand for our rights in our nation. But how does any of that kind of thinking justify not calling the police when someone in our church commits a crime? Especially if that crime is domestic violence or sexual abuse against a victim who comes to us for help? There is no justification for not reporting in these cases. And I would be very suspicious of any church leadership that cited government conspiracy as a reason for not reporting.
[February 24, 2023: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to February 24, 2023 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 February 24, 2023 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 February 24, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (February 24, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
I made the mistake, after discovering that the son of close family friends had molested my daughter while he thought she was sleeping, of going to the leadership in my home fellowship (large enough to be considered a small church) for help. BIG mistake. They, along with the young man’s parents, put a tremendous amount of pressure on me not to report, including trying to dissuade me from getting my daughter professional help as licensed counselors are mandated reporters.
A man I respected a great deal as a Bible teacher quoted the passage where Jesus says to settle with your adversary outside of court as Jesus’ command for me not to involve the authorities. When I quoted the Romans passage to him he stated that we had to submit to the Kingdom first.
He also compared my situation to someone having to report someone as homosexual in Iran even though it would result in the person’s execution. I no longer respect or consider this man a friend.
We have been ostracized by a significant number of our home fellowship. Not all, I’m glad to say. But the words and lack of care of my former friends has been almost as painful as the discovery of what happened to my daughter. These are the same people I saw for years interceding for justice for people trapped in sex trafficking and who constantly speak of the church as family. I’ve concluded that justice is popular until it lands in your house. It costs nothing to advocate for people thousands of miles away.
Their silence is deafening. There are people who are aware of this situation and have not spoken to me in six months. Now, I’m also starting to hear that some of them are saying my daughter was at fault for the way she dresses. I’m disgusted and furious. FYI I’ve been active in the church and ministry for decades.
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Hi, Anonymous, you made the right decisions! That guy who said to you not to report it to the secular justice system (as per Romans 13) because “we have to obey the kingdom first” is just plain wrong. He is twisting Scripture big time. I’m glad you no longer consider him a friend.
When the issue of abuse pokes its head above the horizon, you soon see who the real Christians are and who the nominals and Pharisees are!
Thanks for your reply, Barbara. I’m confident (now) I made the right decision. It was really difficult at first as I’ve known this young man his whole life. I now tell everyone if they become aware of abuse, the first thing to do is over-ride all the emotions and false theology, and report. Always. The church is not equipped to investigate or evaluate abuse. I’m so thankful for Boz Tchividjian’s ministry. And now, yours. I passed on this blog to a friend who is being abused and is trying to figure out what she should do as a Christian. I hope this helps her too.