How a Pastor and His Wife’s Eyes Were Opened to Abuse: A Letter to Pastors
Our readers might recall that some weeks back we said that we had heard from a pastor and his wife who greatly encouraged us. They explained how this blog had helped them come to understand the nature of abuse and to see how they needed to change their counseling methods in dealing with abuse situations. They graciously agreed to write this post not only for our readers, but for any pastors and church leaders who might read it. Many thanks to them for taking the time to tell their story!
An open letter to other pastors and their wives from a pastoral couple who have learned what abuse really is….
The A Cry For Justice blog was first introduced to my husband and me in January 2012, by a close friend who was going through a divorce. My husband is a pastor and formerly pastored the church where this friend attends. Not only was he her pastor but we also provided marital counseling to her and her now ex-husband. My husband has over 40 years in pastoral ministry, serving that particular church for over 20 years. Our denomination, that church, and our own theology would be characterized as very evangelical and very conservative.
I preface my thoughts with this information, because our denomination, that church, and our ministry would fall into the category that Pastor Crippen has identified as having the “deficit that is plaguing our churches — the pervasive lack of understanding of abuse.” At that time for us abuse would have been defined as “physical abuse” and only that; divorce was allowed for infidelity and nothing else; and pastoral counseling did everything possible to save a marriage. Issues were very black and white. There were no variations from a hard, strict, and legalistic view of the issues through a very narrow interpretation of Scripture. On a side note, as our friend was going through her divorce process, our former church essentially ostracized her, not with any formal process, but through their narrow thinking that if there was no infidelity, then there should be no divorce. If you follow the blog, you are aware that Pastor Crippen has addressed this view — held by many renowned evangelical leaders. We, in fact, suggested, and she took our suggestion, not to attend that church but to use the Sunday morning worship time as a concentrated time of her own study of God’s Word. She did that, primarily by listening to Pastor Crippen’s sermons via the Internet.
Now as we look back on this particular counseling experience, as well as others, we learned how very wrong we were in how we tried to help these couples. Through reading the blog and following what Jeff Crippen has taught pastors and churches, we realized that we really didn’t know or understand anything about abuse. I remember sitting in counseling sessions listening as her abuser would repeatedly tell us “I don’t get it”, “I’m not smart enough”, or “you don’t understand”, especially concerning the role of a husband and submission within a marriage. My husband and I would leave those sessions and spend hours trying to simplify what we were explaining in an attempt to make it more understandable. Now we know abusers try to cover-up their actions and control of their victims with these types of phrases. They argue that they are the head of the home and only their opinion counts and wives are instructed to listen and obey (“submit’) without questioning their authority. Now we know that they were abusers using controlling and intimidating arguments to get what they want — absolute control! Then they, the abusers, would also try to gain our sympathy by trying to convince us that they could not understand the help and suggestions we, as counselors, were offering to them.
A familiar response was “I don’t get it.”
It wasn’t until this past year through reading, following the blog, and walking with our friend through her divorce, that we realized that abusers use these tactics and feel entitled to do so in order to get and keep control of their spouses and family. Could we have helped to prevent the divorce that our friend was going through? No, we don’t think so. Her now ex-husband did and still has a cold, calculating heart; he continues to be manipulative and controlling. In our opinion he would be one of those who profess to be a Christian but their lives and actions show something completely different, certainly none of the characteristics described as the Fruit of the Spirit. We now realize that this man is an emotional and verbal abuser and has no desire to change. Although he no longer has any relationship with our friend, his abusive actions continue with his children and with others. Through much prayer, sharing with them how their father is an abuser, and his abusive tactics now directed at them, our friend’s children are making great strides in understanding abuse and not allowing their dad to continue to emotionally and verbally abuse them.
Again, before our recent understanding of abuse, our view of abuse was limited to physical abuse. And we were too ignorant of what abuse entails to identify other abuse as verbal, neglect, emotional, and even sexual within the confines of a marriage. The one thing we were able to identify was that one spouse always thought that they were right, the other one was in wrong and there was no in between for the spouse who thought they were always right! We did all the “normal”, marital counseling techniques: we shared and studied Ephesians 5 and prayed with the couple. It was so inadequate, but at the time that is what we thought was right and needed to be done. We, like most other Christian counselors, would get caught up in trying to fix the marriage because that’s what God would want. We were naïve in believing that we could actually do that.
Today, we would take a totally different approach. We would counsel the husband and wife separately for some time before a joint session, if any. This allows the spouse who is suffering the abuse to speak freely without fearing repercussions from the abusing spouse. We never doubted what a victim would tell us about what was happening in their marriage, but we do believe that some victims hesitated to actually share everything because in most cases both husband and wife were involved in our church and they didn’t want the pastor and wife to think badly of either one of them. So they seemed to be good at skirting the issues. Sometimes we could probe and get more of the “real problem” revealed but more often not. By meeting separately, some of these barriers to getting at the real problem would be more easily revealed.
In summary we would like to acknowledge that we didn’t know how to identify abuse, how to really help the abused spouse, or how to get our church past its narrow, legalistic views. If there are pastoral couples reading this blog entry, may we suggest you go to the blog archives and search under “Pastors and Abuse” for the 10 part series that Pastor Crippen wrote in July 2012 that specifically teaches Pastors what they need to learn about abuse and maybe then change about how they counsel and help abuse victims within their churches. Note: Here is the link to part 1 of that series (Advice for Pastors): Dealing with domestic abuse.
[January 28, 2023: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to January 28, 2023 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 January 28, 2023 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 January 28, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (January 28, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
21-part sermon series by Pastor Crippen — We would also very much recommend this sermon series (Domestic Violence and Abuse: The Psychology and Methods of Sin), delivered by Jeff Crippen to his church (Christ Reformation Church) in 2010. The link takes you to his series at SermonAudio.
- Posted in: Supporting victims
- Tagged: biblical counseling, church response to abuse, disclosing abuse, divorce, emotional abuse, guest post, leadership, pastors
So glad to see this!
Very encouraged by this….!
Wow. This letter gives me a lot of hope. Hope that there are pastors in the evangelical community who are willing to listen, learn, and their hearts are open to God’s truth regardless of the traditions that men have set up. Sometimes we get so bogged down dealing with pastors and Elders with hard hearts that we can get demoralized….thinking that we are all alone. I think this is so awesome. It is the fruit of the hard work of Ps Crippen and Barbara and everyone who works so hard on this blog, and it reminds me of Jeff C’s recent post on the “1 in 400” — they are out there. 🙂
Sometimes it’s so easy to forget that there is light shining in this world and it does push back the darkness. Thank you for the reminder that change does happen, that God is still working in this world, and that good is triumphing over evil.
I have a lot of respect for those who hear the message and respond, not because they’ve been victims or experienced the pain themselves, but because they know the message to be true and of great value. It makes me think of Josiah finding the book of the Law — he didn’t even know he was looking for it, but when he found it, he knew it was to be perused and he followed it with all of his heart.
Yes, Jeff S, Josiah recognised the fragrance of truth and light when he saw it. Whenever I read that story I imaginatively feel how Josiah was gripped by fear of the Lord as he read the Book of the Law. Not the craven fear that makes a man want to cover up his sins by sweeping them under the carpet while keeping up his front of Pharisaic righteousness, but the good fear that leads to transparent confession, obedience, humble submission and love towards God and the brothers and sisters.
….and then I think of people, big Christian leaders some of them, who have read about our teaching, or read others like David Instone-Brewer whose books on divorce are also setting victims of abuse free from bondage and suffering, but as soon as they read it they go into cover up mode. Do some people sense the fragrance of truth and want to supress it as soon as they detect it? I believe so.
And that verse in the Douay-Rheims Bible (DRA) is interesting:
God bless these people! What humility. What integrity!
To the pastor’s wife who wrote this post, and her husband ––- Thank you! We are tremendously encouraged to know that our work is reaching ears that can hear. May the Lord bless you and keep you.
Wow! What an encouraging post! To that pastor, thank you for letting this community know that all the efforts to expose and draw attention to this lurking horror amidst us is not in vain. Some people DO change their minds, and they DO begin to get it, even if they haven’t personally been through it. Praise God!
Thanks for writing this open letter! Compassion and mercy are such beautiful things to see.
Oh I agree! I’ve used those very same words as I implored others to put on kindness and understanding. There is always so much more to the story in a person’s life….
Great letter! I am curious. Have they taken heat from their denomination for their stand?
Wow! Thrilled to hear that you came to understand abuse (how is never a ‘nice’ story but God brings such good out of our messes). I appreciate that you know to counsel separately when you suspect abuse. However, I’m not sure I agree with the statement that —
This may happen 1) if a woman understands that her situation is abusive (not normal – wrong) and 2) if she felt safe that the pastor and his wife would not communicate with her husband, other leaders in the church, other members of the church and 3) if she was in a safe enough place to begin to talk. If any of the three are missing, I would strongly doubt that the woman would share much (or talk at all) and what she would share would probably focussed on what she did wrong and her shortcomings. So often when counselling starts, the victim of abuse is in such a fog of confusion that she doesn’t know her marriage is not ‘normal’, she doesn’t recognize her husband as abusive, and she certainly won’t talk about it because there is the huge code of secrecy. As a “submissive” wife, you are to be loyal and supporting, never accusing. The victim sees the problems as hers and strives so hard to do what God wants.
For me, Proverbs 11:9b tells of my situation —
Once I had information and believed that I was hearing truth, the way became clear for me to escape the abuse.
Wow. That is exactly what I’d do, exactly how I felt. So good to read that I’m not weird.
I thank God for using this blog and others to ‘pull back the curtain’ on the abuse taking place at the altar. I admire this pastoral team for their honesty and integrity and determination to help others in leadership to see what they have come to see. One box of questions keeps nagging at me to be opened, so I will: What about the dead bodies left behind in the wake of former ignorance? Do any of us have a responsibility to go back, confess that ignorance, publicly repent of our failure to stand for justice, and seek to make restitution for that failure? If so, what would that look like? Do we turn our backs on that valley of dry bones we have created, promising ourselves that we won’t do that again? Can it be that their blood still cries out for justice and unless we go back and humbly address it, God Himself will avenge that innocent blood?
What excellent questions, which I doubt there is a straight answer for. Personally, I think that is going to be answered through the prayerful leading of the Holy Spirit. It does raise the question of exactly when a pastor should admit he is wrong and to whom. It will be interesting to hear other’s take on it.
I agree, Wendell — I bet the Spirit would lead one in the direction that’s needed. It would probably depend on whether a pastor seriously injured someone with hard-headed advice, or whether they were just ignorant but trying do the best that they could, without ill motives. In any case I think that when our hearts & motives are pure, God’s not going to punish us and draw our blood. I think grace abounds here for all of us.
AISIO – I think that any pastor or church leader (or Christian) who has their eyes opened to the nature and mentality and tactics of abuse, to the damage it causes, to the deceptions it has long enjoyed, and to the injustices it promotes against victims, will also be led by the Spirit of Christ to do some re-tracing of steps. “I was wrong. We were wrong. We dealt injustice to you. We were blind. Please forgive us.” And that would entail making this known to the whole church.
This is an amazing thing to me. I find that Christ’s true people are very, very forgiving. Even an abuse victim who was served up a pile of injustice and pain, when he / she sees true repentance and humility and acknowledgment of wrong, is willing and even eager to forgive. The problem is, these things are just not seen by victims very often. I have told other pastors this before — to just go to the victim and lay it out and say “I was wrong. We treated you badly. We increased your suffering and we enabled the wicked.” But so often what happens is the church leaders remain hardened. They won’t acknowledge wrong. And so the divide just widens. In the case of a pastor or any Christian who genuinely comes to see this thing for what it is, I don’t think you will have to pressure them to go and make things right with people they have counseled wrongly. They will want to do it and they will rejoice in doing it.
And when this is done rightly, those dry bones live!
Jeff C, speaking about my abuser husband: Even after over 40 years of very serious abuse, if he had only given me one heartfelt apology, and promised to seek help (I would have helped him to do so), our marriage could have been saved. I would not have left him if he had displayed true contrition and did indeed change his abusing ways.
I had asked him for an apology, to seek help, but he would become very angry at my requests and would accuse me of the most terrible, false things….it was heart-breaking.
I see now that it is very unlikely that he will ever change. Since separating from him, he has done some very cruel and hurtful tactics to have me look like I was to blame for the break-up. Even our children are now in league with him. He has the funds to bribe them if he chooses. I never wanted our children to take sides, and from the beginning had asked them to please let him and I work out own own problems, but
it seems that he will use his power to align them with him. It’s very hard.
Once I understood the insidious mind-control of psychological / emotional / mental abuse, having just watched it directed at immediate family and their young friends, children of a cunning, evil reprobate pretend Christian, I realized that there were friends in my past who had been in this place, and neither of us could articulate or fully see it back then I had given concerned, well-meaning, standard, WRONG advice to “persevere” or “keep praying and stay cheerfully submitted and it will change him” (like magic or voodoo or something!). I have gone to each of those women and expressed sorrowful apologies and regret, and they have all graciously let me know they did not hold it against me, as they know how deceptive it is and how ignorantly arrogant standard church folks can be in some circles.
I also do not get angry with current friends who just cannot see it, and praise or excuse the abuser, as I was ignorantly in their shoes two years ago.
Yes, I too am waiting. Someone once said that “In our ignorance, we are (still) guilty; when we are no longer ignorant, we are responsible.” Is it too much of a coincidence that Dr. George Simon Jr’s contribution to this blog has warned us to beware of false contrition? True and heartfelt contrition will bear good fruit. However small that fruit it begins it will grow. That would be a manifestation of Christ Himself that would rock the world. May that kind of blessing and power rest upon all in pastoral leadership who take the first steps toward reconciliation.
What a beautiful, and uplifting message! I’m sad though to think that this dear pastor and his wonderful wife were being fooled by the abusers who pretended that they were as innocent as lambs. They really had the poor pastor and his wife running through hoops trying to submit to their demands. How truly awful and horrible. It just really makes me angry that these abusers have no hesitation in manipulating and dishonouring these very people who desire the welfare of our souls.
My ex-husband knew exactly what he was doing when he went ahead of me and set our adult children up to blame me for wanting out. I had no idea that he had worked behind my back in such a fashion until a year later. I, too, had begged him to keep them out of it, that it was about the marriage, not the family. He wouldn’t listen. It caused me so much pain. I thought I had lost them. But one by over they began to have their own eyes opened and came back to me.
I had been willing to work with him in counseling to free him from his own childhood and establish intimacy between us. But once I began to see him without his mask he got more cold with me. It was as though he really had no intention of reconciliation. He was only concerned about his persona and how other people saw him that he went along with counseling. I became the one who was blamed by outsiders.
When it became more than I could bear I had to leave permanently. I knew that I deserved more than he was willing to give. I knew that I could never be intimate with him on any level and live with myself. It was then that I knew it was over. They don’t change unless they have a deep desire to repent and do whatever it takes for as long as it takes. Unfortunately, they will use the right words in order to get us to stay put. I learned that words not backed up by actions are lies.
If my children had not told me to leave, that he was no longer an option in my life, that I deserved a better life, I suppose the boomerang could have swung back once more. My children gave me the encouragement to leave and even opened their homes to me. Entrusting them to God and His wisdom was an answer to my prayers. I never dreamed that they would love me the way they presently do.
In the end, God promises to make it all right one day. I know how tiring it can be to long for it and to wait, but we must be patient and trust in His timing.
Good point, Now Free. Abusers show true genius in conning pastors, adding another layer of insult to the Body. That said, I heard one pastor say “I’d confess to you what I have done, but I’m afraid of what you will do to me.” That’s a typical response I’ve heard, so perhaps I’m tainted into seeing only crocodile tears when just maybe the Spirit is at work. No offense intended! Just show me the fruit. (And then be patient with me, for it may take me some time to believe it.)
As I See It Only….I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but I wonder if that pastor was minimizing the tactics of the abuser, and at the risk of sounding judgmental, it is possible that he might have been one as well.
On a recent guest post by Dr. Simon, he states how to recognize true and false contrition. I think it is an excellent way to discern whether or not the abuser will ultimately bear good fruit:
How to Recognize True (and false) Contrition — by Dr. George Simon, Jr.
Pastor Crippen, this was posted in 2013. I only wish there were MORE of these letters and more churches who were being taught the truth about God’s word that ACFJ illuminates!
There’s no way that most readers could read through all the old posts here at ACFJ because of time or PTSD or whatever; so I’m grateful that you continually post “new” ones, although they are often merely modified “original” posts with updated insights and stories using real-life relationship encounters. It’s another reason that I comment on them; because if others are like me and check out the “recent comments” section first, they may end up reading the truth and beauty that is filed away here that God knows about and wishes others to see too. God’s truth is truth all the time, and doesn’t change with time or life or age and can ENHANCE our lives and understanding as we mature in our wisdom and knowledge of Him.
A bit off topic (for this post), but I just have to respond to Jeff C.’s wonderful post today (8/24/17) on yet “Another abuser-enabling, victim-enslaving book: Jim Newheiser’s “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage.” What an excellent post, addressing the flip side of THIS post on a pastor having his eyes OPENED to realities of abuse, marriage / divorce.
Yes, ANOTHER lousy book being published IS discouraging, but what encourages me here: Seeing the number of those following ACFJ go up EVERY DAY!
(Like RBE, I too, regularly check out the “recent comments”!)
Raped By Evil, can you please email me? I want to discuss a comment you recently submitted.