Abuse and the Pastor’s Office Desk
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.
2 Corinthians 1:24 ESV (24) Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
I was recently impressed with the professional demeanor of many pastors and it set my mind working on, you guessed it, abuse. We have all written and read much about how abuse victims are so often cruelly handled by their churches and their church leaders. Much of this malpractice occurs in the pastor’s office. I mean, in the literal room where his desk and books are and degree certificates hang on the wall. You go into his office, and if you are a victim of abuse then you go with real trepidation and heart racing, looking for help and answers. There he is, standing and soon to be seated behind his large and impressive desk.
Things matter. Even desks. You know that they do. How do you feel when you walk into an office like that and see the books on shelves behind him? Books you know nothing much about but which apparently hold divine secrets known to studied men? [Let me tell you a secret. Most pastors haven’t even begun to read those books on display behind their desk!] I can tell you how you feel. Intimidated. And so would I.
And then, as the session proceeds and you have poured out just a bit of your story of abuse, the pastor behind the big desk, whose name is on those certificates on the wall, begins to expound and counsel. He is confident. He takes off his glasses and polishes them. There is a large, leather-bound Bible laying on his desk right in front of him. He has such an air of confidence as he sorts through its pages. And then he pronounces. You must stay with your abuser. God does not permit divorce. Surely you have over-reacted. He knows your abuser to be a genuine Christian. God takes us all through hard times, but we must be patient. Besides, no doubt you have not been the spouse you should have been either. And think of the children.
Why does this hit you so hard? Why can’t victims just “blow it all off” as the nonsense that it is? Well, in part – perhaps largely in part – because of the desk. And by “the desk” I mean all of the trappings in the office, the office itself, the air of the pastor – hold us in a certain awe. Surely this man is no ordinary man. What things must he know and what situations must he deal with in this place? It must be here, on this “holy ground” that he communes with the Lord — those times when his office door says “pastor in conference”? [Reality check: One time I was sitting in just such a pastor’s office and he behind his desk. It was a church of some 500 people. This guy was on the career fast track. We talked. Then, his wife came into the office. “Aren’t you ready yet! We have been waiting for you for 20 minutes!” He replied, “yeah, yeah, I’ll be there.” Welcome to that man’s real world. I think actually that his wife wasn’t the real problem].
I am not ridiculing the pastoral calling or ministry. But I am calling upon all of us to consider that things are done in the church that inordinately exalt mere men. Men who could be wrong. Men who are fallible. And when such men are wrong and when they fail, many, many people are harmed. The more we exalt them unduly, the greater the harm.
So here is one very practical suggestion, pastors. Get rid of your desk. Do away with those books lining the wall behind your chair. Most pastors do their best study in a study, not in their office. Ask yourself what it is all about, really? The big desk, the books behind, the framed certificates on the wall. What message are you trying to send to the people who walk through your door? For myself, I did away with that whole scene years ago. My “office” looks more like a comfy living room. Yes, I admit there is still one ordination certificate on the wall. I don’t know why. I never look at it anymore and neither does anyone else. I guess I need to stow it too.
Let’s all humble ourselves and admit the facts. When it comes to this subject of abuse (and many other topics as well), we do not know hardly anything about it! We didn’t learn about it in seminary. So when we set up our “pastor’s office” in the traditional manner of desk-books-certificates, and then authoritatively expound on what God says to abuse victims, we have just increased the damage we do exponentially. We evangelicals don’t wear clerical collars, but we have our ways of putting them on nevertheless.
1 Peter 5:1-3 ESV (1) So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: (2) shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.