A Cry For Justice

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

Any mug could have done it

Albert Earnest Coates was a master surgeon, soldier, teacher and humanitarian. Refusing to leave his patients during the Second World War, Coates became a Prisoner of War of the Japanese.

An ex POW, Private Bill Hood, said of Coates “… they, the POW camp doctors, were all good, but Colonel Coates stood out… he not only saved lives… he saved reason… he was a man among men.”

Although  Coates carried out hundreds of life saving amputations and operations and gave compassion and hope during his period as a prisoner of war, he refused to accept the credit, merely saying, “Any mug could have done it.”

Coates was amputating legs and arms. Not all that difficult, once you know how to cut flesh and stop severed arteries from bleeding. The main thing in an amputation is to cut off the correct limb. That might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s a big deal. When you go into surgery, they always get out a big black marking pen before you have the anesthetic, and mark the part of your body that is to be cut by the surgeon’s knife. If they take off the wrong leg, or the wrong breast, then the patient has two problems: they lost the wrong body part – the healthy one – and they’ve still got the unhealthy body part which will eventually, by  gangrene or cancer, destroy the rest of their body. That’s serious. A lethal mistake.

What Albert Coates was doing – without any black pen, I’m sure – was what “any mug could do.” And he could see as clear as day which body part needed to be amputated. In POW camps you don’t have fancy MRI machines to discern unhealthy limbs; you have your eyes, your hands and your nose. In the tropics, where the POW camps were, rotting and diseased flesh gets pretty high pretty fast.

Pastors are not expected to discern diseased flesh and amputate limbs; but they are expected to discern diseased souls and endorse the severance of marriages where one spouse’s soul is so toxic that the other spouse and the rest of the body of Christ needs to be cut free from the wicked soul. The evil soul needs to be put out of the church and handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5:5).

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:12-13)

And it’s no accident, in my opinion, that in the very next chapter of that epistle, Paul tells the Corinthians “Any mug among you could judge those disputes between brothers.”   Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers?

Now, the disputes Paul was referring to in chapter 6 are probably civil disputes, not criminal cases. In the Roman empire it was quite common for a man  who thought he was a big shot to sue another man, claiming that that man had damaged his reputation.  (See Bruce Winter’s work on Corinthians.) The legal arguments and defences in such proceedings were a bit like Hollywood movies: the oratory of the complainant was on show and was being compared with the oratory of the defendant. Oratory in the Roman Empire was a big deal because a man’s status, income and influence were very much bound up with how good an orator he was thought to be. So men of ambition took each other to court on trivial claims of ‘defamation’, in order to promote their own status and belittle their rivals. These things were probably happening among members of the Corinthian church – Christians have always brought over elements of their pre-conversion culture into their Christian walk, which is one reason why Paul exhorts us to ‘renew our minds’. We need to get rid of our worldly thinking and customs if we are to live in and for Christ.

Perhaps some Corinthians were also taking each other to court for simple matters like unpaid bills. But the point I’m getting to is this: although the Corinthians’ court cases that Paul reprimanded them for were not about marital disputes, but about lesser issues, Paul did say  Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers? He obviously thought there had to be people in that small congregation (it probably had less than 100 members) who could judge and decide who was right and who was wrong.

So Paul thought that judging was not that hard to do. Any mug could do it, if they used common sense informed by Biblical principles. So why is it so hard for modern church leaders to judge rightly in cases of domestic abuse? Why do they often cut off the wrong limb and cause the healthy soul to leave the church? Why do they let the toxic soul remain in the church to poison the rest of the body?

We have heard from our readers how some of you have been married to pastors who were abusive to you and your kids. So in those cases, the pastor was clearly the toxic man himself. But what about the rest of the pastors who aren’t abusive to their spouses, but are wrongly judging other cases of abuse in their congregations? What part of the voices of weeping victims do they not understand?

I tried to upload some photos of the  Albert Coates memorial, Ballarat but my tech skills or computer failed me. But if you click on the link you can see them on my Facebook page.


  1. Jeff Crippen

    Barbara – Could these be some of the reasons?

    John 5:44 ESV
    (44) How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

    Mark 3:23 ESV
    (23) And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?

    Luke 6:42 ESV
    (42) How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

    Of course these 3 reasons apply to those pastors who are not true pastors, or who at least are so wrapped up in themselves that they will not effect justice. Others pastors, true pastors, who just don’t get it yet when it comes to the deceptiveness of sin, are probably often blinded by what they have been taught: “divorce is always sin; God hates divorce; it is always, always, always God’s will to preserve a marriage; there is always fault on both sides….” and on and on. We have grown up with this and we have had these traditions drilled into us. So, the very first response we are going to have when a woman, for example, reports an abusive husband, is to totally rule out divorce as an option.

    • Yes indeed; now you’ve got me thinking of scriptures. Maybe others are:

      Matthew 5:28 ESV
      But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


      18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
      but only in expressing his opinion.

      18:8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
      they go down into the inner parts of the body.

      18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears, [hears the victim’s story in detail]
      it is his folly and shame.

      19:1 Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
      than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.

      I’d better stop there and let others chime in.

  2. Anonymous

    Thanks for giving clarity on that verse in 1 Cor 6 where Paul urges the Corinthians not to take each other to court but to judge among themselves. That verse, among many others, is often twisted and taken out of context to support the abuser’s condemnation of the victim’s action in pursuing a legal divorce. It’s, after all, taking a brother to court. Or is it?

    • Yep, in 1999 when I sought a protection order against my husband, the church I was in publicly judged me for “taking a brother to court”. And I’ve heard stories of survivors being guilted for even contemplating divorcing their abuser, because “you should not take a brother to court”.

      There are several reasons why it’s wrong to apply 1 Cor. 6:1 in those ways.
      (1) Paul was writing about civil matters, where one person sues another for defamation or fraud or not paying their debts. He was not writing about criminal matters such as assault, rape, theft, property damage, kidnapping, etc, which are the crimes that often occur in domestic abuse.
      (2) In Paul’s day, the state did not issue legal orders for protection, ‘no contact’ orders, or anything like that. Such orders had not been invented.
      (3) Protection orders these days (at least in my country) are initially civil orders, but if the order is breached, the breach is a criminal matter. This means that the order is granted by the court on ‘balance of probabilities’ evidence. But to prove it has been breached, the evidence bar is much higher: it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. So this means that the influence of a protection order spans both the civil and criminal areas of law. Again, this was unheard of in Paul’s day, so it’s silly to try to apply 1 Corinthians 6 to protection orders.
      (4) Divorce these days is a civil matter. It is not a criminal matter and never has and never will be in the modern western world. However, when Paul was telling the Corinthians “don’t take a brother to the secular courts,” divorce was not a court proceeding for most people.
      In the rare cases where courts were involved in divorce, it was over the dispersion or disposal of the dowry – in other words, only disputes over property were litigated between divorcing couples. But most divorcing couples didn’t need to go to litigation because under Roman law, the wife usually retained her own property when she got married, it did not become ‘joint property’ as it does with us. So most people didn’t even need to go to law to divide the property, as there was no joint property to be divided. There were exceptions to this rule, but they were relatively rare. And many people had so little property, being poor, that going to court to fight over it would not have entered their heads.

      To sum up: when Paul was telling the Corinthian church “Don’t take a brother to court” he would not have been talking about divorce or protection orders. And it’s silly (not to say uneducated) for modern readers to read our legal and cultural situation back into the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians, where the legal and cultural situation was so different.

      On the other hand, I don’t think it is silly to apply Paul’s expectation that there ought to be people in the church who can judge between right and wrong, to cases of separation and divorce for domestic abuse. If a reasonable person takes the trouble to educate themselves on the dynamics of domestic abuse (as Ps Jeff did by reading authors like Lundy Bancroft) then they should be able to figure out who is in the right and who is in the wrong in cases of domestic abuse.

  3.  There’s a blog I’ve frequented in the past by a burned ex-evangelical who claims the evangelical mindset is grounded in doing stuff “to avoid relationships”. Now sometimes she gets it wrong in her blog, but I think the overall assessment is bang on. In culture where leaving a Gospel tract with your tip (or sometimes without one) counts as evangelism, it’s clear that we like accomplishments and ridged formulas more that we like people. I had this conversation with a friend about tracts where he was making the point that if an immature believer who was uncomfortable with talking to people could instead drop a tract, then that was a HUGE step for the believer in the walk of becoming a better evangelist. In my opinion, though, this isn’t a step forward- its the perpetuation of the notion that evangelism (as well as the Christian walk) is about bombing people with impersonal truth and then walking on our merry way, confident we are doing kingdom work.

    I am wary of “truth bombing” people- pastors do it in sermons, believers do it in evangelism, and now we even get “clobber verses” quoted across the blogosphere as people judge one another and make their fine theological points without any regard to the heart of the matters they address. Women in ministry: Bam! 1 Timothy 2:12. Divorce for abuse: Bam! Matthew 5:32. The approach of taking single verses on very complex topics, using their English translations woodenly without thinking too hard, and then not stopping to consider the implications in real people’s lives is at best irresponsible.

    And for what it’s worth, this isn’t just something evangelicals do- I get “this should end the debate” one liners from non-believers just as often. There must be something about the American spirit of individualism that people don’t want to reach out and have real relationships. But if it is the way of the world, Christians ought to be doing it better. We have no excuse. We should be committed to empathy and relationship/community building- we are not called to be emotionally separated islands, but a “body” of believers.

    Going through my own divorce I remember a very blessed friend in the church who stood beside me saying “the part I don’t get is why the elders haven’t taken the time or effort to understand and empathize with you.”  I told him that their doctrine made empathy unnecessary, and he shook his head and said “you cannot deal with situations like this without getting in and understanding with empathy”. He was right.

    Piper, MacArthur and all of these guys preaching that you stick it out and submit through verbal abuse don’t get it because they’ve got an impersonal doctrine that holds up in their one-sided sermons where they get to erect straw men (such as the man who will repent and come to faith with the right wifely attitude), but fails when you deal with the mess of abuse in the real world. Let’s see what Piper says if he spends a month working in a woman’s shelter where the abused go because their personhood is almost completely destroyed. If he still comes out saying the same stuff, then my judgement of him as misguided may change to be something a lot more harsh.

    But my point is this- if evangelical Christianity were more about interacting with people and creating community, the less we would fail at knowing what was going on in our families and the impact it has on individuals.

    • “There must be something about the American spirit of individualism that people don’t want to reach out and have real relationships.”
      Jeff, I have to sadly inform you that many Australian Christians show that same avoidance of real relationships. As for whether it is more an American trait than an Australian trait, I’m not sure. Americans have that spirit of individualism, which has its downside, but Aussies have a spirit of ‘couldn’t care less’ which has its downside too. Both spirits lead to shallow and masked-up relationships.
      I find my daughter and her friends, who are non-Christians, better at cultivating genuine relationships than most Christians are. I even find the regulars in my favourite coffee shop are better at relationships than Christians usually are. One regular customer failed to show up at his usual time, and another regular customer (who only knows him from being both regulars at the coffee shop) drove all the way across town to see if he was all right. That’s caring.
      I have some real Christian friends here in my town, but I could probably count them on one hand.

  4. Finding Answers

    Not writing about abusive relationships here!!

    Relationships take work. They take vulnerability. They can’t be maintained through “Tweet-like” interactions, two ships passing in the night.

    Relationships get messy. They need the “car-equivalent” of oil filter changes, engine tune-ups, brake jobs, and wheel alignments. Otherwise, they become more and more expensive to repair, perhaps becoming irreparable.

    Relationships are fragile, not matter how strong the bond. Trust can be shattered in a moment. Respect can be tainted by one step down the slippery slope. Integrity can be breached when pressure is applied.

    Few people, Christian or otherwise, are willing to take the risk.

    Not any mug can do it.

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