If the abuser shows signs of repentance, what should pastors do? And what if there is no repentance?
If there are signs of true repentance, what can pastors offer the abuser? Do many abusers have access to the right type of ministry to help them with long-term growth and accountability? This question was recently asked by an anonymous commenter at Morven’s Blog.
Any pastor can find out, by a few simple phone calls or an internet search, whether there is a Men’s Behavior Change Program in his local area. This is what he should be directing the perpetrator to even if the abuser is showing some signs of true repentance. It takes much hard work to change entitlement thinking and habits that have been entrenched for perhaps decades. Change is not quick; for an abuser it may be a project that lasts the rest of his life.
And if there is no Men’s Behavior Change program in his local area, the pastor should make it his business to lobby for getting one set up. Let him motivate the men in his church to make this the business of the church to work with secular agencies to see if they can get a Behavior Change Program started locally. But these programs MUST be run by trained and accredited professionals and conducted according to Best Practice guidelines as per the secular domestic abuse service system provision in your State. No wanna-be’s should imagine they can take it on.
But secular education (= Behavior Change Programs) cannot bring regeneration to spirit that is dead in sin. We are all born in sin, and we all must be regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God if we are to be true Christians. Jeff Crippen has argued cogently and extensively on this blog about the fact that abusers CANNOT be regenerate men. They are not Christians. If they were, they would repent of their wickedness, and they would be feeling true convicting guilt for the pain they caused their victims. But they don’t; they sleep soundly at night without pangs of conscience. The only thing they worry about is “Will I be found out? Will I have to pay a price for my behavior? And how can I avoid paying that price?” These thoughts show they are still only thinking about ME ME ME. They are not thinking with a mite of empathy about how they have hurt their victims.
So a Behavior Change Program can be useful, but it won’t bring a man from death to life. It won’t make a dead person come alive in Christ. Only God does that. It is His electing and unfathomable grace which mysteriously works like the wind through the trees, and we don’t know where it comes from or where it is going, that brings a soul from death to life in Christ. And we certainly can’t systematize or manipulate the activity of the Spirit by rituals, prayers, baptisms or any other outward actions on our part. I would guess (and it’s only speculation, because I’ve never heard of this happening in a real case) that an abuser who is dead in his sins MAY come to life in Christ by the Spirit’s working, in conjunction and with the provocation of participating in a Behavior Change Group. So there is good reason to send an abuser to such a group, but it won’t guarantee true change – true conversion and repentance.
And what if there are no signs, or dubious signs of repentance? What does leadership do? No sign of repentance equates to lack of safety for the woman since nothing has changed. How does the leadership provide that safety?
My answer to this question is as follows, but I’m open to suggestions and improvements. Bear in mind that the three points below are often also appropriate for cases where the perpetrator is showing some signs of true repentance. An abuser can continue to repent (change his mindset, habits and behavior) while he is separated from his wife. In fact, her drawing the line of firm separation is often the stimulus that finally prods him to really consider change. Let him change, if he seriously intends to, while his wife is safely recovering without him pestering and bullying and manipulating her. True repentance will be testable by the way he conducts himself during a long separation. And sadly, the vast majority of perpetrators seem to only fake repentance; they never truly repent. So testing their repentance while their wife is not permitting them back is usually the best way to test whether it’s phoney or genuine.
So, having given that qualification, here is what I think leaders can do when there are no signs, or dubious signs, of the perpetrator’s repentance.
(1) 1 Cor. 5:11-13 Purge the evil person from among you = Put the abuser out of the church. Forbid him attending services while his victim(s) are associated with that congregation. Let him be the one who has to find a new church, not her! That’s if he actually bothers to find a new church; some abusers will just slink off into the world and drop all their Christian coloration, once they are treated firmly enough by true pastors.
(2) Assist the victim (if she wishes) to obtain protection orders, find safe or safer housing, make statements to the police so they can lay charges, etc.
(3) Teach like Billy-Oh from the pulpit about the nature and tactics of abuse, so the rest of the congregation are less likely to be enlisted by the perpetrator, and the victim will feel protected, believed and understood by her church family.
Jeff Crippen’s sermon series is the best available; it consists of 21 sermons. Let the pastor have 21 weeks off from sermon writing while he plays these each Sunday morning to his congregation! And with the time he saved not having to write sermons, let him minister to all the victims who come out of the woodwork!
Now THAT’S a win-win situation, is it not? 🙂