A Cry For Justice

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

How to Create an Abusive Church

I don’t like to think about spiritual abuse, or abusive churches, or abusive pastors.  I don’t like it.  For one reason, this is because the abusers I have had to deal with over the years as a pastor LOVE to accuse me and our elders and our church of having abused them.   So I am sensitive to this subject.  Sometimes when it comes up, my self-doubts kick in.  Maybe I am guilty?  Maybe we have abused people?  But then, and I think it is the Lord helping me at those moments, I go back and remember what those abusers did and how they abused.  And I realize that the mere fact that I am presently anxious about the horror of us as a church abusing people is probably not an attitude to be found in a truly abusive church.  I think we are a church, and I am a pastor, who has certainly made mistakes in handling people in the past.  There have probably been instances in which we have even sinned – and in those cases I hope that we have confessed to anyone we have wronged.  No pastor can truly study the subject of domestic violence abuse and not conclude that there were instances in the past that he would have handled at least somewhat differently – and in some cases, entirely differently.  Oh, and one other thing that comes to my mind when I study abuse and think about abusers in the church and how they are to be dealt with – I realize that we were blind to them far too long and let them do their evil far, far too long.  If anything, I think that has been our major error in this regard.

I don’t like to think about spiritual abuse.  But we MUST think about it, see it, and reject it, lest we become like it.

Well, that’s the rather rambling prologue to the subject – How to Create an Abusive Church.   Listen once again to those verses in 1 Cor 2 –

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV
(1)  And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.
(2)  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
(3)  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,
(4)  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
(5)  that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

I highlighted verse 5 because that is the one I want us to think about.  How do you create an abusive church?  How do you build a “thing” that has all the “Christian” exterior frills, but is devoid of the presence of Jesus?  Well, Paul says that one way to do it is to build it on a man’s (or woman’s) personality.  Charm.  Charisma.  Call in Pastor Golden-Tongue.  Team him up with Pastor Novelty.  What will happen is that as this cult of personality expands, the faith of the populace will be based upon (have its object as) – these ring leaders.  The church bookstore will be filled with Golden Tongue’s books and sermon tapes.  He has plenty to say on any subject you can think of.  The youth group and children’s ministries and even the senior ministry will have that flair that only Pastor Novelty can pull off.

And it will grow.  Oh, how it will grow.  And the money?  The buildings?  Who can argue with success, right?

Yet none of it, NONE of it is of God.  The “faith” there rests upon the so-called wisdom of man (which is foolishness in reality), and is totally devoid of the saving, regenerating power of God.

And the POWER.  Feel the electricity of the power.  Listen to it in the voice of Golden-Tongue and in the excitement of Novelty.  It streams through in the music too.  Tears flow.  Hallelujahs are shouted.

And none of it is of Jesus.  None of it.  So guess what you have.  You have a thing, a monster, that is devoid of the love of Jesus.  You have created a house made comfortable for some uninvited guests, who most certainly are going to show up one day –

Matthew 12:43-45 ESV
(43)  “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.
(44)  Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.
(45)  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

Victims of abuse simply will not find mercy and justice and kindness in such a place.  Furthermore, the widespread experience of the many Christians who have been victimized by abuse and who have told us their stories of how they were mistreated and rejected by their churches, tell us something else.  It tells us that perhaps Pastor Golden Tongue and his associate, Pastor Novelty, are not only to be found in the huge mega-churches.  They may well be standing in far more of our pulpits today than we would even want to admit. How many of Jeremiah’s words here apply to the condition of the evangelical church today?

Jeremiah 6:14-19 ESV
(14)  They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.
(15)  Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the LORD.
(16)  Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
(17)  I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’
(18)  Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
(19)  Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.

Joe Pote made this comment on our article, A Good Church is Hard to Find, but I wanted to append it to this article as it describes exactly what we are addressing here –

“It’s been interesting, too, watching our church change the last few years of being led by our current pastor.  Overall, it has not grown, but has shrunk in attendance.  However, there is a much more peacful spirit, with less gossip and less controversy.  We have fewer members with high income levels and more members in humble situations.  And we have begun more outreach programs geared toward ministering to people living in the low-income area near our church location.

I’ve had several people around town ask me, “What’s going on at Calvary Baptist Church?  We hear everyone is leaving and they’re having financial issues.”  I just smile and reply that God is using our church to reach the people He wants us to reach.

I suppose it doesn’t look too successful in a lot of people’s eyes.  God sees things differently…”.

8 Comments

  1. Pippa

    The phrase “passes through waterless places” always sets me to wondering. What in the world is he talking about? I just did a search of the internet and found a really good article “The Unclean Spirit” by Jonathan Mitchell. He discusses the multilevel interpretation of Jesus’ statement in Matt 12:40-43. I will not attempt to summarize the symbolism but would point out that the part that is most applicable to the subject at hand is that the church has gradually allowed itself to be polluted by both the “unclean attitudes and mind-sets of the dead teaching of paganism…” and by the uncleanness of their Pharisiacal hearts. It is summed up as “The bearer of light was cast down in AD 70, but her daughters (the denominations and fringe groups) have also become partakers of the same spirit, over the centuries. More deaths have been caused through the domination system of Christianity than all the blood shed by Israel of old. And the Voice of God again says, “Come out of her, My people…”. “ This echoes some other “fringe groups” that vehemently state that Christ’s true Church at “the end” must come out of the traditional church.
    On a personal level, it speaks to me. Friends who haven’t experienced this repeatedly say to me “Why can’t you get him out of the house?” “You should throw him out.” “Can’t you get your lawyer to get him out?” “Haven’t you gotten him out of the house yet?” “Tell the judge what he is doing and ask him to get him out.” All well meaning and supportive, but not possible for me to act on. I may be spinning my wheels trying to get the EHTB out of the house. I may have to leave, to simply walk away.

  2. Pippa

    When I referred to “other fringe groups” at the end of the first paragraph, I did that tongue in cheek. I completely agree with the fact that we need to come out of the traditional “church.” (I am not including Joe Pote’s church or Pastor Jeff’s church.” I think when looking for a church we may need to ask which ones are failing financially, are spending their money on feeding the poor and supporting the widows and orphans instead of a good sound system, have nothing but old hymns, etc.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Right on, Pippa. Thank you very, very much for these insights. Christ’s words are profound. What a horror results from washing only the externals of the cup and not the inside. Or sweeping up our lives with moralism, but remaining devoid of Christ’s Spirit? All we do is prepare the table for the Devil himself. I do not like to be negative all the time, believe it or not. But if I want to be positive, I have to turn to Christ Himself, His beauty, His grace to us, His wisdom and power. When I speak of the state of that which professes to be the evangelical church today, I find it hard – really hard – to be positive. I think that what you have described is exactly what has happened. Religion with out Christ is a monster. A church without Christ is a dangerous and abusive institution. And, in my opinion, one of the key things that is exposing our churches and the absence of Christ in them is how all of these Christians who are being or have been abused (and so many times by a man who claims to be a Christian) are being treated. I simply cannot fathom how genuine, regenerate people could do this. Oh, maybe for a bit out of ignorance, but the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of truth and exposes the spirit of error (1 John, I think). When we see the “fringe” groups becoming more like Christ than the mainstream “church” – then what does that say about the state of affairs? Your suggestions for finding a true, genuine church are excellent. Look for Smyrna or Philadelphia. Stop being lured by Laodicea. Oh, and as to what you “should” do – you will know how and when. And it may well be a matter of “come out from among them and be separate.”

  3. Jim

    All the abusive churches I have read about- the Catholic sex abuse cases, Amish sex abuse cases, the rapist minister in Jacksonville- base their position on unconditional forgiveness, which comes directly from Jesus without qualification multiple times. How can you avoid that?

    • Jeff Crippen

      The way to get around it is to take a closer look at Scripture. Did Jesus unconditionally forgive the rich young ruler who refused to sell all he had? Did Christ unconditionally forgive the Pharisees and scribes that He pronounced woes upon? Or the city of Jerusalem which He said would be destroyed in 70AD? Does God forgive US unconditionally? No. We must repent and believe in Christ. Nowhere does the Bible ever teach us that we are required to forgive unconditionally and then reconcile relationship in every case. What it does teach is that we are to forgive everyone who sins against us by not taking our own vengeance upon them, by loving them even if they are our enemies – ie, not seeking to do evil to them, but pulling their car out of the ditch if we see them in trouble. But ignore all consequences of their sin? No. Entrust them in a relationship with us again? Not always, for sure.

    • Jim, I’ve just noticed your comments on this and other posts on this blog. I sounds to me like you are really struggling with stuff, including the issue of forgiveness. When I say “struggling with stuff” I don’t mean to put you down; to me it seems like Satan has you kinda by the throat and is constantly trying to get you to believe that “Because you are still angry at the people who bullied you, you haven’t forgiven them so you can’t be a true Christian.” I would encourage you to resist and refute this lie of the enemy. Being angry towards those who hurt and mistreated us is not a sin. It’s only sinful if we act on that anger by seeking to obtain vengeance against the people who hurt us. But to FEEL the anger is not wrong.
      Remember: the Bible says “Be angry and sin not.” Let’s break that down. There are two commandments, instructions, directives, here.
      1. Be angry
      2. Sin not.

      Hear the first one: it tells us that it’s okay to feel and acknowledge our emotions of anger when we have them. Can you hear the permission in that?

      Now the second one: it tells us not to let ourselves act impulsively on our anger in ways that are sinful. Not to take revenge into our own hands (vengeance is God’s province). Not to let it out on others who didn’t wrong us but who just happen to be within range when our anger erupts. Not to go postal on Facebook or some other foolish thing. Not to take it out on ourselves by suiciding or self-harming or torturing ourselves.

      Now put them together. Be angry (the emotion is OKAY), and while you’re in the emotion of anger, just take care that you don’t do wrong from being impelled by the emotion.

      You don’t have to answer this on the blog, but have you ever sought counselling to address the bullying you received and its results in your life? If not, I’d encourage you to look for some. You could ask Morven Baker, who often comments here, for advice about finding a good counsellor. You can find Morven at http://morvensblog.wordpress.com/

      To help you think thru the topic of Forgiveness more, you might like to check out this article (sermon) on my blog by Ps Bob Kerrey:
      http://www.notunderbondage.com/pdfs/BobKerreyForgivenessSermon.html

      [This link is now found on the ACFJ Sermons page. Or click here to download the .pdf directly. Editors.]

  4. Eve

    Yes, God sees things differently….and Praise God for that! Thank you Jesus for the effective work of churches like this one…an example worth following.

  5. Maggie

    Thank you for an excellent article.

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