Abuse and Secrecy: What Have We Got to Hide?

(Ephesians 5:11  ESV)  (11) Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

One of the reasons that abusers can hide so well in the church is because of our campaign of silence. Let me see if I can explain what I mean.

Scripture tells us that we are to speak well of others, that we are to guard our tongues so as to not slander or gossip. Our speech is to be edifying. There are things we should not speak about. Vulgarity and crude jokes are not to be part of our vocabulary. We all know this.

At the same time, we ARE to speak loudly and clearly when evil needs to be exposed. There is a time not to speak, but there is a time when it is a sin to keep silent. Christ is in the business of exposing evil when it is in His church and He commands all of us to do the same. Announce it to the congregation. Name names. Rebuke publicly when a person refuses to repent, and so on.

But we don’t do this. We most commonly keep sin a secret. The details have to be pried out of our mouths. I remember, for example, some years ago when a pastor was discovered to be abusing his wife and living an immoral lifestyle. At an annual meeting of pastors that this man had been a part of, there were hushed comments about “hey, where is so-and-so?” “Well, haven’t you heard?” Ultimately a written announcement was made that he was no longer a pastor and had left his family. But even in that announcement, cautious words were used: “We are not free to give all of the details. You understand of course. We don’t want to say anything improper.”

Well, let me ask, “why?” Sure, there are times when situations require discretion as to what is said and not every single person in the world needs to know every detail. I would hope that such limitations to what is revealed are intended for the good of the victim however, and not for the protection of the guilty man’s reputation. Alas, I am afraid that reputation protection — both of the guilty party AND of ourselves — is more often the motivation for this silence.

Ask yourself again: how does Christ handle sin in His church? Does He hush it up? Does he deal with it “quietly and discreetly”? Or does He announce it from the mountaintops? For anyone who knows God’s Word this is a no-brainer.

Why do we feel that we have to protect the “sensibilities” of our congregation, sparing them the nasty details of what an abuser has done? Once more, ask yourself — how does the Word of God approach these things? Does it say, “John Smith has failed to love his wife and often speaks to her in anger”? Or does this sound more like God’s description: “John Smith has consistently terrorized his wife and children.  For years he has raped and sodomized his wife. He has threatened to slit her throat if she ever tells anyone. And all the while, John Smith has been among us as a practiced hypocrite, pretending to be a fine Christian man.”

So I ask, why do we cover up? I will suggest some reasons and I will be happy to hear more of them from you:

  1. Reality threatens the fantasyland of “goodness” in which we live.
  2. The truth divides. It demands that we make a decision and take a side. And that means that the comfortable hot-tub environment of our churches will be rocked. People could leave. Money will be lost.
  3. We are arrogant. We refuse to admit that such things could happen among us. So we minimize their severity and then boast about how forgiving we are (all at the expense of the victim of course).
  4. We are foolishly and dangerously naive about evil.
  5. We exalt men’s reputations above the name of Christ.
  6. ?????

I do not believe that all of our talk about avoiding gossip, of not wanting to slander anyone, or of some desire to “protect” people explains the silence about evil in the church. I suggest that this silence stems more often than not from selfish, sinful desire to minimize it, avoid dealing with it, and making it just disappear out of sight.

(Revelation 2:14-16  ESV)  (14) But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.  (15) So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  (16) Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

[October 3, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to October 3, 2022 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 October 3, 2022 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 October 3, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (October 3, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


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.

4 thoughts on “Abuse and Secrecy: What Have We Got to Hide?”

    1. Name names….

      Wow, this is so hard! Especially when you read something like the above news!

      May I have your opinion on this: What happened to Randy and Susan McKenzie [Internet Archive link]. I name names here. It’s my own story. I’m not trying to blame anyone but I do want the church, in general, to wake up to what is happening.

      A movie was made of our lives, and it’s been distributed all over the world. I begged for that movie NOT to be made. The day it was mass-distributed was the same day that I saw it for the first time. I BEGGED for it not to be released!

      So they have gone public with a story that I don’t feel comfortable with. In this movie my dialogue is clearly using words of an abused wife, yet no one is picking up on this? So….my response to this movie is to share MY SIDE OF THE STORY….and I do that as lovingly as I can….and I wonder if you can give me feedback. Is it really SAFE to name names? Especially in light of the above news article….THANKS!

      [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

  1. I think the more public something like [this] is, the more you are going to end up having the victim re-live the abuse. I would not want the details of my situation brought up in a public way as it just opens the door for more accusation, fighting, and pain. And I wouldn’t want to have my son hear those things about his mother too. So mercy to the victim is a large component of why I wouldn’t want more publicity.

    But beyond that, let’s take a situation where the victim is no longer present (say he or she has moved or died), before airing ANYTHING I think you need someone really qualified to judge guilt or innocence – most pastors wouldn’t even know where to start with abuse. If you have a clear cut case, I think then the decision is what will build up the body and make it stronger. In my opinion it’s something that could go either way and probably needs to be an Elder decision bathed in prayer. If the fruits of such public exposure are potential repentance, a strengthening of the body to keep it vigilant in the defending of the weak, and other virtuous outcomes I think we should not shy away from making known what needs to be known. If on the other hand the fruit will be titillating gossip and gleeful enjoyment of watching the accident unfold, in that case it is better to leave as much unsaid as possible while still representing the truth (i.e. we shouldn’t ever be “covering up”). My guess is we are a long way off from having a general confidence in church leadership to handle this kind of thing well in a public forum.

    All of that being said, if there ever was a clear cut case for church discipline, then in my opinion this is it. I hear a lot about church discipline that just makes me ill – people disciplined for not agreeing with their pastor, divorce, or other things that may or not be sin, but certainly don’t warrant being cast out and cut off. Maybe my interpretation of the Scripture is wrong, but it seems to me the stuff we use church discipline for should be the stuff that absolutely slanders Christ’s church (so much so that even non-Christians are appalled), and tolerance of domestic abuse fits that bill completely. When we don’t deal with domestic abuse well we rightly incur the contempt of the world who sees us as a safe haven for evil.

Leave a comment. It's ok to use a made up name (e.g Anon37). For safety tips read 'New Users Info' (top menu). Tick the box if you want to be notified of new comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.