Abuse and the Church: When Churches Abuse Victims of Abuse

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 11:20 ESV (20)  For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.

I just ordered a copy of the book Suffer The Little Children: Understanding and Overcoming Spiritual Abuse by W. William Hobson.  As far as I could see it is only available in the Kindle edition.  I have just started reading it but already I can tell that it is going to be a book that I will read right on through.  When I start underlining on most every page of a book that is a pretty good sign it is resonating with me.  [Note: You will find the book a bit disjointed as to organization.  The author spends quite a lot of time at first examining full-blown cults like Jim Jones and so on.  But there is still good material to be gleaned from this book].

This subject of spiritual abuse is very, very closely related to domestic abuse — at least for Christian victims.  Why?  Because as most all of our readers know from hard experience, domestic abuse victims end up being abused by their pastors and churches.  Oppressed people seeking to be rescued from the abuse of power and control find themselves put in bondage to an entire additional system of abusive power and control.  So those of us who have been abused will recognize the mentality and mindset of abusive religious leaders as Hobson describes them.

Of course you don’t have to be a victim of domestic abuse to be victimized by spiritual abuse.  All you have to do is be in one of these churches led by such a tyrant.  And the thing is subtle, as Hobson points out.  Some abusive church leaders didn’t set out to be abusive!  They simply put into practice the ideas and methods that they themselves were taught.  And here then is the scary thing for all of us.  WE can be spiritual abusers ourselves when we embrace unbiblical ideas that have been handed down to us and labeled as Scripture.

As I preach this current sermon series on The Religion of the Pharisees (sermons will be posted on sermonaudio.com/crc) I suspect I will be finding myself referring to books on spiritual abuse frequently.

20 thoughts on “Abuse and the Church: When Churches Abuse Victims of Abuse”

  1. Please keep spreading the news about spiritual abuse. Not enough people understand the principle in order to recognize when it is happening in their church or to them. I was so relieved to know the treatment I experienced at the hands of an elder board and senior pastor was abusive. While I knew it was wrong, demeaning, harmful and unloving, the pain and my woundedness wasn’t validated until an interim pastor used the term “abuse of spiritual authority”.
    Hierarchical churches led by strong, powerful, manipulative and controlling pastors who view themselves as “first among equals” or “God’s anointed” are breeding grounds for fostering spiritual abuse. Beware and be prepared.

    1. Thank you each and every one who has posted here about this topic. I was a missionary in a South American country with my now ex-husband, for 24 years. He was sexually abusive and no one suspected the abuse was taking place. When I finally left him after 27 years of marriage, the Pastor of the church (the church my husband and I planted many years earlier) sided with my husband and told me I wasn’t welcome. He believed the lies my husband told and stripped me of my ministries in the church. I had founded a counseling center within the church and was the director for several years. I saw my counseling clients there until the day that I found out the Pastor had banned me from practicing there.

      A couple of years prior to that, a young couple came to me for counseling. They were new Christians. The husband had been violent and had beat up his wife several times. My advice to her was to leave and find a safe place. Word got back to the Pastor, and he was furious that I would counsel a woman to leave her husband. I explained (to no good) that her life was in danger at times, and that if her husband killed her because she obeyed her Pastor, her blood would be on his hands.

      Sometimes I wonder what in the world people like this Pastor have in place of a brain. Legalism and rigidity take over all reason and they actually place people’s lives in danger.

      Thank you Jeff, Barbara and all who have contributed to this topic, which can no longer be kept hidden.

      1. SFA- I am seeing in the last few days that we are going to increasingly be getting into this whole matter of spiritual abuse of people by their churches and pastors and fellow “Christians.” After all, virtually EVERY Christian who is the victim of domestic abuse who has gone to their pastor or church for help has the same sad story of being further abused by those who are supposedly to shepherd and protect them. It makes me ANGRY! And I can tell everyone that it makes Jesus ANGRY! And He is a lot scarier than me by an infinite amount to those who would violate His sheep. I wish we could blame this all on just ignorance. But that is only part of it. I think there is just plain abuse of power and authority, often of men over women but always of those with power over the oppressed in all of this. And the theology that refuses to tell a victim that she/he can separate from and divorce their abuser is the theology of the abuse of power. It is not the theology of the Bible.

        I have just started a new sermon series called The Religion of the Pharisees which addresses these very things. It is available on sermonaudio.com/crc and we will be adding another message each week. I intend to go into detail. When people think of the Pharisees, they think of legalism. But that is really only part of the story. The Scriptures are filled with exposures of how the Pharisees abused the weak and lorded it over them. Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites!! I pray that there will be a building groundswell of a great reformation by the Spirit of God that will be heard and will bring these abusive power systems crashing down.

    2. Amen to that. Our church system is badly flawed. The church in Acts was not hierarchical, and no one had power and control over others. It makes me sick to see how the lay people fawn over and idolize their pastors while ignoring the weak and needy in their midst.

      1. You are right Voicewilderness1, that the TRUE church in Acts was not hierarchical. But the early church was plagued by false, power-hungry people who were trying to teach and were somewhat effective in leading congregations astray. Cases in point: the church at Corinth (see 2 Corinthians), the church in Galatia, the church which Timothy had been asked to appoint elders for. And even the church in Ephesus lost its first love and became dominated by cold hearted legalists (see Revelation).

  2. You are right that some leaders can abuse survivors don’t really know they are doing it. Most survivors have many triggers. A lot of those triggers seem to be connected to misunderstood Christian principles. Some abusers are like Satan himself in that they know how to abuse a child in a way that keeps them from understanding the freedom of the gospel.

    1. Exactly! A good example is what that predator preacher said to Christa Brown (“This Little Light”) when she was 16 and he was sexually abusing her. He told her, “What we are doing is God’s will. Have faith. Trust in Christ!”
      My teeth are gritting to even write that! Ugh.

      1. Can you clarify if spiritual abuse always includes a tyrant or uneducated individual or can it simply be a church culture that is indifferent to abuse while intolerant of divorce or couples separating?

      2. AJ – the latter is also very abusive. A church climate that communicates false guilt and blame onto an innocent party is functioning in alliance with the guilty. I just talked to an abuse victim who divorced her violent, terrorizing husband. She was called in by 4 church leaders in the new church she has been attending and basically was interrogated about “who actually filed the divorce paperwork.” She felt cornered and accused and bullied. And that is definitely abusive. It is an abuse of power over an oppressed person. It is wicked and it is very common in our churches.

    2. We have learned much of our theology from abusers themselves as they quote Scripture and pressure us into believing it all. “Indeed, has God said….?”

      1. I find this to be extremely tricky to navigate when there is only verbal or psychological abuse in the relationship. I have no physical scars to prove the damage my marriage has caused and so I cannot scripturally justify being separated. If I try to explain the reasons then I am fifty percent responsible for our “difficulties” and need to take responsibility for my part of making it work. Clearly I am angry, I am just really grateful to have found a community that understands, where I can actually express how devastating it is. Thank you Jeff

      2. AJ, I can really relate to what you are feeling. I have no physical evidence to support my abuse. What I do have is my experience, and the ‘perspective’ of what I am experiencing of my ‘perception’ of experiencing what I ‘perceive’ to be an abusive person. Those quotes are from the spiritual people I

      3. Song, those exact same weasel-words – ‘your perceptions’ – ‘your perspective’ – are used by many blind and foolish guides in the church. I have heard other victims report the same thing as what you’ve reported.
        The thing they don’t get, at rock bottom, is that in Abuse, there is one person lying (the abuser) and one person telling the truth (the victim). And usually the victim is only telling the tip of the iceberg of the truth. This myth of ‘different perceptions that are all valid’ needs to be blown apart. It’s closely related to the myth of neutrality. If readers are interested in that, look up ‘neutrality’ in our categories search bar.

      4. “Weasel-words” Perfect description. And the tone of voice they were said in added the twist of letting me know they thought my ‘perception’ was invalid. And tip of the iceberg is correct also.

      5. AJ, There are scriptures to justify separation for emotional, verbal, spiritual abuse. I’m not able to post them right now, but I do remember seeing Posts and/or comments by Jeff and Barbara on this blog addressing the issue.

  3. Thank you so much for speaking up about this topic. While serving as a missionary and counselor in South America, many clients came to me, devastated and hurt, not only by family members but by their pastors and church leaders as well.
    They had not thought of what they were experiencing as spiritual abuse, but as I spoke with each one of these precious wounded individuals, they began to understand what had taken place.
    Somehow I think there will be special consequences for pastors and church leaders who use their position of authority to hurt God’s sheep…

  4. AJ, I am right where you are; years of emotional and psychological abuse and his pastor claiming “It’s always been your word against his in the form of emails. So I can’t make a conclusion one way or the other. I hope you can respect that.” His emails showed that he changed history and was horribly abusive but this pastor did not want to acknowledge that. I copy my pastor and a friend on all emails with my ex and they thought it was obvious. I limit all contact to emails. It allows me time to read and think so I can hopefully see the traps and confusion and “crazy-making” before replying. My pastor is still surprised by my ex’s responses and I have to sometime realize, he didn’t live with my ex for 17 years, to me it’s normal, my pastor still thinks he is dealing with a rational person who will change when his bad behavior is pointed out to him.

    1. I appreciate you sharing nnp. I too have friends who are surprised by things that are said, and surprised by how I don’t even notice. It helps me realize how worn down I have become in our 17 years.

  5. I’ve been abused and blown off even by seemingly decent pastors who didn’t appear to be tyrants at all. Some day God will pay these evil people back. They will burn in hell forever in the worst ever agony for doing the devil.s work if they do not repent. I’ve never been able to find a church that is a true church. I have high functioning autism and they find me to be an easy target.

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