Abuse and the Police: Churches Are Not Above the Civil Authorities

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.


Romans 13:1-7 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (2) Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (3) For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, (4) for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (5) Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (6) For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. (7) Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

When I was a police officer I often had to go testify in court.  Portland, Oregon was a large enough city that you would see new assistant District Attorneys begin their careers in traffic court, prosecuting speeding offenses then moving up to DWI cases and so on.  They had to learn some basics in presenting their case, and one of the things they had to establish at the very start was something called venue.  Venue has to do with the jurisdiction of the court.  A court in Oregon, for example, cannot try a speeding offense if it occurred in the state of Washington.  And if the court were in Portland, then the offense had to have occurred in Multnomah County, and so on.  So the prosecutor would have to establish that, for instance, SE 139th and Division Street was in “the county of Multnomah, State of Oregon.”  If he forgot to do that, the case could be dismissed.  Venue, you see.

Here in the 13th chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul is teaching us about venue.  He says that God has appointed the civil authorities to carry out a particular function.  The police, the prosecutor’s office, and the courts all “bear the sword” for the purpose of dealing with wrongdoers.  The civil authorities are to be a “terror” to evil people for the benefit of us all.  Therefore, we are all to be in subjection to them.

Christians and pastors and churches forget this, and in part (perhaps in large part) this is why abuse, both domestic and sexual, is being covered up in our churches.  The thing is in the news now with well known evangelicals being sued for this very thing.  It is contended that rather than report cases of sexual abuse and spousal abuse (criminal actions) to the civil authorities for prosecution, church leaders hushed it up and handled it “in house.”  Or we should say, “mis-handled” it.  Grievous wrongs were done to victims.

Churches do not have venue in regard to criminal offenses!  We believe in the separation of church and state, just as Romans 13 teaches.  The church has its venue (spiritual and religious) and the state has its venue (earthly and legal).  Criminal offenses cannot be tried in the church!  That has been attempted in church history and the outcome has never been good.  The church does not rule over the king, nor does the king rule over the church.  They each have their assigned areas of venue.  If the king errs spiritually, it is the duty and right of the church to correct him.  And if the church errs in criminal or civil matters, it is the duty and right of the king to correct the church.

In our churches, we can easily make the state out to be the enemy.  We home-school rather than subject our children to the schools of the state.  We protest that our taxes are used to fund abortions.  But in all of this, if we are not careful (and we have not been careful), we can go wrong in our thinking and imagine that we are above the state in all matters.  And so, when it is discovered that a child has been abused in our church, we can easily err by seeing the civil authorities as the enemy and imagining that we have a God-given venue to handle the case entirely ourselves.  We do not.  For the most part we are not competent nor equipped to handle such cases, and we violate the law (and thus oppose God as Paul says) when we refuse to report abuse to the police.  We do further damage to victims and we shame the name of Christ, as is happening in the news right now, when the whole sorry mess comes out perhaps years later.  “Church and pastors covered up sexual abuse and protected the perpetrator.”

That is a headline you never want to see as a result of something your church did, or did not do.

25 thoughts on “Abuse and the Police: Churches Are Not Above the Civil Authorities”

  1. Boy, I think we were tracking, Jeff. My blog post [Internet Archive link] yesterday covers the same stuff. They don’t want to call it a crime, but sin – and of course sin should only dealt with in church – ugh. Another verse they ignore: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 1 Peter 2:13-14

    I did not know you were a police officer. If you read in my comments from reader Downtown Pastor – – that is Pastor Ken Garrett who used to be an EMT in Portland and now pastors a church downtown Portland. He, too, is very sensitive about the issue of abuse. It’s interesting to note your backgrounds and that you both are now pastors 🙂

    1. Thanks Julie Anne. Yes, I contacted Pastor Garrett a couple of weeks ago when you mentioned him and plan to meet with him before long. Many police officers grow very weary of Christians for the reasons I mentioned in my article and you in yours. If I were a sex crimes investigator I no doubt would see pastors and churches in many cases (not all) as being opposed to my efforts to render justice.

      1. Jeff – It just baffles my mind that the secular world sees these injustices far more clearly than Christians. No wonder they think we’re all whacked.

      2. I am a member of my region’s Family Violence Prevention Network. It consists of professionals and a sprinkling of volunteers like me who are working on the issue of family violence: police, welfare workers, social workers, counselors, educators, children’s workers, housing workers, etc. I have heard comments from them about how the church hides abusers, conceals domestic abuse and gives appalling advice to victims. Basically they say it’s rife in the church.

        The prejudice from these professionals against Christians is almost palpable. When I have mentioned the fact that I’m a Christian you can almost cut the air with a knife. However, when the network allowed me a 30 minute speaking spot, and I was able to explain to them where I’m coming from and how I see the church as culpable for covering up abuse and condoning abusers, their view of me turned round 180 degrees.
        Those network members who were present for my talk now realize I’m pretty much on the same page as them – that I’m part of the solution, not the problem. But those who didn’t hear me talk that day are still suspicious, thinking I will rave on about how victims need to forgive their abusers and reconcile forthwith.

        If any of you are interacting with secular family violence professionals, bear in mind that as soon as they know you are a Christian they’ll feel suspicious of you, and you’ll have to try to overcome their prejudices before they give you much credibility. It’s a hard hill to climb, but it’s worth plodding.

  2. Does anybody know what theology these people are following? What makes them think handling abuse issues is NOT the domain of law enforcement? Especially the abuse of a child. I mean, it’s one thing to want to have some kind of involvement on a pastoral level with the people involved but whatever are they thinking that this would replace the legal system???

    As far as children go, these people are breaking the law themselves when they don’t report child abuse. I think that is a federal law? I don’t know clergy requirements for reporting abuse of an adult, but I’m pretty sure every single state requires clergy and other authorities to report child abuse once they learn of it.

    1. BIT, I think it’s broadly Evangelicals that are doing it with all sorts of theological variations. The most recent in the new is “Sovereign Grace Ministries” which is facing a class action lawsuit (and yes, one of the issues is not reporting child abuse to the authorities)- they are Calvinist. Piper is also a Calvinist and in his infamous video where he has a women submitting to emotional abuse for a season and physical for a night he encourages women to come to the church to deal with the abuse, not the police.

      I don’t think this stuff is linked to theology- there are a lot of Reformed/Calvinist teachers out there teaching and practicing stuff like this, but then Jeff Crippen (and I believe Barbara as well) would classify themselves as Reformed (as would I). It saddens me to see a lot of people blaming Reformed doctrine for this stuff, when it really isn’t an issue with theology.

      In the end, as much as we wrangle about doctrine in the Evangelical world (and I think doctrine is very important), it’s our behavior that’s the real issue. If our doctrine isn’t leading us to loving one another and doing justice, we’ve missed something.

    2. And another point is just to go back and quote from Jeff’s original post:

      “In our churches, we can easily make the state out to be the enemy. We home-school rather than subject our children to the schools of the state. We protest that our taxes are used to fund abortions. But in all of this, if we are not careful (and we have not been careful), we can go wrong in our thinking and imagine that we are above the state in all matters”.

      More and more the Evangelical subculture sees the government as being “the world” and therefore at odds with our mission- or an enemy. I don’t know how many straw-men sermons I’ve heard with Christians pitted against “them”- the “evil, liberal government”.

      To be honest, Evangelicals are terrible at subtlety and we don’t like living in grey areas. We pretty much put everything into “for us” or “against us” categories. Interesting how much more messy the accounts in the Bible are than how we expect things to work out in modern situations.

      1. It occurs to me that it could be the result of a misteaching on 1 Corinthians 5. In fact I would not be at all surprised if that was the passage they were using to guide them. We are not talking about small claims fender benders here, though. We are talking about very serious criminal activity that clearly (I mean, I would think clearly) falls under Romans 13.

      2. BIT…they also use the verse about going to law against your brother. It is not EVER allowed for ANY situation for brother to take brother to law (note: sister isn’t even an option here). But I think the issue is that we are not willing to call someone who has followed our 4 step plan of salvation-“Now, repeat after me”-NOT a brother! That would mean that we would have to revamp our thinking on how to save people. Which we should do, because it is not US and our steps to salvation that saves anyone, it is Jesus Christ Himself Who does the work!

      3. Laurie-Just did a study on these verses about taking your brother to Court. Matthew Henry commentary says that those verses are talking about small matters. Henry goes on to say that if we have been harmed (as in the abuse cases, etc.) then we have every right not to lay down and take it, but to take our brother/sister to court, as that is what God put it there for. So, the Calvinist and Reformed company need to read Henry on this.

    3. What theology are these people following? I don’t think it’s theology at all. They may have rhetorically sound doctrine in some respects, but they are blind, scared and willfully in denial in other respects. The chasm between rhetoric and reality is enormous and it’s not easy to point it out because people are motivated by deep undercurrents of prejudice, not doctrine.

      One such prejudicial belief is as follows: Sin which hurts others is not really serious, unless the one being hurt is a person of power, status and reputation. And if institutions, leaders or denominational networks are threatened, then the boat-rockers are disposable and the institutions and leaders take precedence. Prejudice says “Don’t challenge any of this because we don’t want to examine our own personal lives; we don’t want to scratch beneath the surface of our own marriages, we don’t want anyone looking behind closed doors in our homes or our churches. We like our fig leaf coverings! Don’t take them away from us! “

      1. Good points, Barbara and Jeff.

        Concerning social proof, the first thing that comes to mind is the verse that says teachers will incur a stricter judgment. I was immediately thinking of pastors in pulpits, which are universally regarded as spiritual authorities who are responsible to tell groups of people what is right and what is wrong and how great an influence on social proof that would effect.

        Social proof is more powerful when being accurate is more important and when others are perceived as especially knowledgeable.

        You can imagine the cascade effect of this when the pastor influences the board. Then the board comes to consensus on the issue and applies their collective power on the larger group. Should there be maybe one or two members on the board who do not agree, they will be overruled and either be overcome or else become subject to the whistle blower effect of the newest article here.

        And of course all of this is done in God’s name with accompanying verses and, what is going to happen to the individual Christian? History is rife with examples of the outcome.

      2. Barbara – Here is a Wikipedia article on a psychological mechanism called Social Proof. It sounds to me like this theory has some real relevance to cases like the Penn State/Sandusky horror and to church coverups of abuse in their own ranks:

        Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.

        The effects of social influence can be seen in the tendency of large groups to conform to choices which may be either correct or mistaken, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as herd behavior. Although social proof reflects a rational motive to take into account the information possessed by others, formal analysis shows that it can cause people to converge too quickly upon a single choice, so that decisions of even large groups of individuals may be grounded in very little information (see information cascades).

        Social proof is a type of conformity. When a person is in a situation where they are unsure of the correct way to behave, they will often look to others for cues concerning the correct behavior. When “we conform because we believe that other’s interpretation of an ambiguous situation is more accurate than ours and will help us choose an appropriate course of action,” it is informational social influence. This is contrasted with normative social influence wherein a person conforms to be liked or accepted by others.

        Social proof often leads not just to public compliance (conforming to the behavior of others publicly without necessarily believing it is correct) but private acceptance (conforming out of a genuine belief that others are correct). Social proof is more powerful when being accurate is more important and when others are perceived as especially knowledgeable.

      3. Barbara – I think this goes to Jeff’s point above concerning theology. It seems they have twisted God’s Word when it comes to sin, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, to make this end all of “everyone lives happily ever after”, even in the cases of abuse. If there is a theology at play here, it isn’t God’s, but one that says, “we are the Church (Pharisees) and we will tell you all what you are going to do and we will make certain it gets done, just like we want it to happen, to stay safe in our man-made bubble.” This is not Christ, but lots of people are falling for this type of lifestyle. I think the problem is that the culture of the Bible has been adopted in several circles, but instead they should have adopted the standards and failed to. Appearance is everything. They fail God in thinking that covering up sin and dealing with it themselves, spares God the embarrassment of it all. They err here, because when the world finds out, they mock God and the Church. Instead of bringing people to Christ, this kind of thinking and behavior, just drives them further away. Just my thoughts.

      4. That article about Social Proof is very good. Once again, secular thinking, in this case sociology and social psychology, is coming up with better wisdom than a lot of the church.

  3. To the degree that we have embraced the religion of the Pharisees and its leaven has spread throughout our churches, to that same degree we will be serving a false god. Therefore our definitions of biblical doctrines will be warped: doctrines like forgiveness and repentance, and so on. And ultimately, should we follow this false religion far enough, we will end up hating and opposing Christ and those who truly know and serve Him.

    “But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, how to destroy Him.” (Matt 12:14)

    1. Good point, Anon. Theonomy argues for a church-state. Seems to me like in that scenario church trumps state. I would steer a wide path away from any church that is partial to theonomy.

    2. Yes, the people following this stuff may not necessarily be conscious adherents of theonomy. But the ideas of theonomy (applying the principles of OT Israel theocracy to modern society and the modern church) are lurking near the surface here.
      The church blended with the State ~ the church having the rights and duties of the State ~ the church therefore not being obliged to report crimes to the State.

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