Rationalization as it Relates to an Abuser in Ministry

A friend writes:

In my first marriage, I had a very difficult time getting others to see the reasons behind why my husband would treat me so poorly. He was terribly neglectful, although I could not have known to use that word, yet. He worked long hours and went to seminary (of course, I did not realize then that his ‘long hours at work’ were just covering for his adultery). He could never attend anything for the kids . . . he did the weirdest things. He insisted on controlling the finances. We could not do the most basic of activities. He kept me in an emotional prison as I wished he could love me. Or would try to love me. Whenever anyone questioned me about his behavior, I would give them the same answers he gave me: He was called by God to be a minister and had to do all of these things in order to prepare for the ‘calling’. Or . . . he wanted me to be used to not having many things or spending a lot of money because we would be ‘in the ministry’. I would get the strangest looks. But, I believed him. I did not realize how out of norm his actions were. He seemed to be exceptionally called by God. Who was I to question that? And, if I did, was I not going against God?

One of the worst kinds of sin (in my opinion) is neglect and abuse done in the name of God. And, oh, what a slippery slope it is. It begins small. Little tiny justifications. At first, a victim is confused but, as she hears things often enough, she begins to accept the rationalizations. George Simon writes this:

A rationalization is the excuse an aggressor makes for engaging in what they know is an inappropriate or harmful behavior. It can be an effective tactic, especially when the explanation of justification the aggressor offers makes just enough sense that any reasonably conscientious person is likely to fall for it. It’s a powerful tactic because it not only serves to remove any internal resistance the aggressor might have about doing what they want to do (quieting any qualms of conscience they might have) but also to keep others off their back. (George K. Simon, In Sheep’s Clothing [Affiliate link], Loc. 1005)

What makes my friend’s acceptance of her abusive ex’s rationalization so heinous, is that it was done in the name of Christ. If God had called her husband to the ministry . . . and he has a special “calling” on his life . . . and her husband abused her . . . that must mean . . . that God has put His stamp of approval on the abuse. What must God think of her?

It is serious business. And not a business that God is pleased with. False shepherds out there masquerading as men of God.


Jesus had plenty to say about men who pretended (Pharisees), but I won’t get into that.

If you are a woman who has been abused by a husband who is a pastor or a seminary student or a missionary . . . God does not approve of what your husband is doing to you — or has done to you. Not one bit. You are His beloved daughter! You are His child! He does not just “let these things go”. He was there for every tear you shed, every little cry you let out. God heard every little desperate prayer you whispered in the midst of your exhaustion. He knows of every little scar on your beautifully designed body, every little bruise. He watched as you were humiliated and scorned. He knows about the times when you could not get out of bed when you thought you were crazy. He has not abandoned you.

Listen, God did not call you or anyone else to a life of abuse. And, chances are very strong, that he did not call your abusive husband into the ministry. Don’t believe that for a second. God does not care more about your abusive husband’s “ministry” than he cares about you.

Beloved child . . . do not allow this to happen to yourself, anymore. If you put a stop to it, you will not ruin your husband’s ministry. He already did that when he chose to give you a life of cruelty. No, my friend. You mean much MUCH more than that to God.

37 thoughts on “Rationalization as it Relates to an Abuser in Ministry”

  1. Honestly, I just don’t understand how a man can do this to his wife and claim the authority of God in doing so. Just the fact that he is doing this disqualifies him from ministry, even before the adultery.

    As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Just because a man lives in a cookie jar, it doesn’t make him a cookie”.

    1. I know, Wendell. But, where we came from (the seminary bubble in which we lived) it was so prevalent. Young women are swooped in as “ministry wives”….severely questioned before marriage as to whether she has what it takes or not to be the wife of someone who has been “called”. Ministry is much more important than her. 😦 I experienced this, as well. If I spoke out, I was sabotaging his ministry. I cannot tell you how awful that feels.

      1. The Bible addresses this issue of husbands not being husbands because they are in ministry. We are told by Paul, that a single woman can be about the business of the Lord, but a married woman is about the business of her husband and family, with the Lord still holding first place, but she has others to care for here on earth now and is not as free to “go out” for the Lord as she was when she was single. The same applies to the husband, but as it seems to go, some only read the passage pertaining to the wife, and apply it to her, neglecting the responsibility of the husband. (1 Cor. 7)

        That being said, I believe that abusive men tend to lean to the “ministry”, because they can hide there and maybe because they just know that as a minister, he will be the last one to be questioned about why he treats his wife, the way he does. He is the leader. The propensity will be that he will lead others to abuse their wives, not be chastised for abusing his own. I mean we see a lot of abusers talked about on this blog, who have been completely hidden and released from accountability and discipline by the Church, so they obviously know how to dupe and hide. They seem to pick the Church to do that in. Sorry for all your pain here, Megan.

      2. Jeff — I had not thought about the fact that the ‘c’hurch seems to believe that a man cannot lead or minister unless he is married. Now that I think about it — that makes no sense with what Scripture says! No sense, at all!

        My ex used to say ALL the time and TO EVERYONE, “There is no ministry without a family.” He talked about the men in the seminary who were dying to get married so they could “have a ministry”. It felt exactly as you described….as though I were an object to be used to further his objectives…. Thank you.

      3. The maddening thing is that many churches require men to be married in order to lead in the church (husband of one wife and all), so it’s hard for them to swing the idea that having a wife limits his abilities to minister since she is his access pass to do so (even though Paul is quite explicit that married folks have divided loyalties that singles do not). I personally think that requirement is not what Paul had in mind, and that forcing men to be married before they can minister just further demeans women as objects to be used to further their husband’s objectives.

      4. And thus the basis for the flawed concept of celibacy in the priesthood! You know, I have always looked on my wife as an equal partner in my ministry activities. Maybe she did not get up and preach. Maybe she wasn’t in elder meetings, but she has taught and she has counseled when called upon. More importantly, God has used her to keep me grounded and on a straight path.

        I don’t know the scope Paul intended for his treatise on the benefits of being single, but honestly, I think being married has helped me!

        Oh, I can’t resist this one, so I beg your indulgences, but as to the thing about being the husband of one wife, I once heard someone say, “He meant one at a time, right?”

        I had to chuckle at that one, though it was brought up in the context of a heated discussion about whether divorced people can serve in leadership.

      5. I haven’t had a chance to read your book yet. It is on my “bookit list”. The way I have always taken that passage is that an elder must be faithful, not an adulterer or a polygamist. I never have tied it to the issue of divorce and remarriage.

        I remember recently discussing my duaghter’s divorce with a man I used to go to church with and he came out with a statement that she could never be in church leadership (not even Sunday School) because of it. He wouldn’t listen to any alternate views, preferring to stay in his pharisaical ways. I could only walk away, shaking my head.

        It seems that to these people, a divorce is worse than David having an affair with Bathsheba and then killing her husband to cover it up….

      6. Wendell I can easily see how a pastor might find that being married to a sensible and loving wife would help and enhance his ministry. And that is perhaps the case for most men who become pastors. But it is certainly not required of all pastors, as I’m sure you agree. 🙂

        I love the way Paul discusses that issue in 1 Corinthians 7. He carefully, discreetly and gently mentions his opinion about the value of singleness without making his opinion in any way prescriptive for all believers. He was indeed a father to the churches; that is just how a good father would give advice.

      7. Oh I agree with you Barbara. While Paul may not have been prescriptive, simply because he said it, many (especially in certain denominations) have taken it as prescriptive and made it a requirement.

      8. I so agree. Well-articulated, Barb. It is all part of how we have made epistles the “New Testament Law for the Church.”

      9. I guess that it is probably a good thing I got my theological education later in life and not from a cemetary….err seminary. I only went to Bible college and I was already a number of years into my marriage.before I finally surrendered. Since I was in my 30’s, it was suggested I go that route.

        In any case, I didn’t experience much of the culture that you are describing, though I know many who have. I do know women who say they were pressured to go to seminary in order to find a missionary or pastor husband.

      10. Well here’s one for all of you. My daughter has been repeatedly told, that the only reason she should ever further her education, any form of it, including theological or biblical studies, is if she is doing it so she can further aid and build her future husband’s career or ministry. She has no man in mind, no ring on her finger, and not even a prospect of a husband, but her only reason for gaining understanding or knowledge, would be for him. That’s interesting, but I don’t see any Scriptures to support that theology. Yes, women have differing roles in life from a man, but does that truly mean that it is God’s will that she is to remain uneducated or jobless or penniless? If the young woman does decide to get a job because her father is not or will not or cannot care for her financially, she is labeled a rebel and a feminist. So, her Christianity comes into question, when she lives in an abusive environment and the father refuses to truly financially support her, because the pastor/leaders/elders have decided, that he is a Christian and can do to his family, whatever he wishes; including financially oppress and under provide; and they will call it God. We are still trying to recover from many of these blowing winds of false doctrine.

        I agree, that a man who is not married can be just as effective in ministry and maybe more so, because he does not have other earthly responsibilities that would have to take first place at times, but I also agree that a married man can have just as great a ministry, without having to use and abuse his wife and children to get there, or stay there.

  2. Churches that require men to be married in order to lead in the church (husband of one wife and all) are so silly they need to be mocked. Sorry, but even a child reading the Bible can tell you that Paul wasn’t married when he was planting and leading churches.

    That kind of idiotic thinking — that a man must be married in order to lead a church — just shows how far the church has descended into the idolatry of marriage and family.

    1. Ok, please don’t take this as an absolute, as it isn’t. But I wonder if the requirement of priesthood celibacy has actually accelerated and exacerbated the problems of sexual abuse and misconduct by priests? Not that married ministers are immune to sexual sin, but we sure hear a lot more of it from the celibate priesthood!

      1. I think that is almost certainly true, Wendell.
        Recently on TV I heard a Roman Catholic priest (or maybe an ex-priest?) saying that the celibacy rule has made it more likely for the priesthood to become a haven for pedophiles. He explained it like this: About 50 percent of priests are sexually active. I presume this means that in many cases priests have mistresses or other sexual relationships with consenting adult women. That produces a culture of dishonesty and secrecy in the priesthood which makes it far easier for pedophiles to thrive in the priesthood.

      2. I would believe that. Reminds me of the time I was taking part in a pro-life march and was walking in front of two priests. They told each other some of the dirtiest jokes I had ever heard. Really opened my eyes and for them to do it while wearing their collars in public really shocked me.

    2. I can never forget one pastor of a church I attended many years ago…he was quite charismatic but rather cold, very strong-willed to the point that you wouldn’t want to disagree with him! His wife was very quiet, hardly said a word, but she was in her own way very strong, and had some defiinte opinions.

      One morning he was preaching to the congregation, and his daughter, who was a toddler at the time, cried out, as children will do. He hauled off and hit her! Right then and there!

    3. I would be happy to mock them…..they are just admitting to their weaknesses by requiring such lunacy….just one other thing that makes them all hypocrites. When a pastor cheats, its his womans fault for NOT doing her job in pleasing him….the finger is never pointed at him, rather we are told they are faulty by gods hands in this matter so therefore they cannot be responsible? Not only is it the wives fault but the other scaucy little trolip he cheated with.

      Lets face it DUH? If a man is not godly, he is not godly wether he has a wife or not!!! Being marred does not mean your a better more godly person?

      You know a single guy would just be at too much risk for all those pesky harlots running around the church scene….especially all those single mothers that have been abandoned by their abusive spouses! Lets deal with the facts within the church, its just a reflection of the blatant dissrespect towards marriage vows, and quite frankly women in general.

      I actually would support, and be more inclined to trust a devoted single pastor that did not succumb to the pressures of the churches theology on that, even though its not theology its stupidity. Equal to single women not being included in other church functions that involve married couples,,,,equal to the mentality of say a frog? Frogs to me just are always saying “”Yay, whatever, ribbit, ribbit” they do not listen or can grasp reality or any real sense of reason or truth……ribbit, ribbit.

  3. “One of the worst kinds of sin (in my opinion) is neglect and abuse done in the name of God.” Well said Megan. If a man is called to the ministry (any job for that matter), I can’t think of a more powerful message than for him to love his wife as Christ loved/s His church and gave Himself for her….Actions truly speak louder than words. A beautiful example of giving himself to his wife, is Robertson McQuilkin who was president of Columbia Bible College (renamed now). His wife, Muriel, had Alzheimer’s. Robertson left his “ministry” to care for her not because he had to, but he wanted to. He says, “She is such a delight to me. I don’t have to care for her, I get to.” Imagine what our churches would be like with this kind of love!

    1. That’s beautiful! I love it! My husband says gushy things like that, but he doesn’t live it. Even after an abusive (verbal) episode he might say things like, “Honey, I love you, you’re the only woman for me. We have to make this work.” (If he’s not angry and blaming)

      1. Anon, note the mutualising and levelling he’s using in those words: “We have to make this work.”
        That ‘we’ puts some of the responsibility and therefore some of the blame on you. It levels the sin; it implies that he may have sinned but you have sinned too (gotcha!)…
        It defines the problem as a relationship problem, shared between the two of you. That is false and deceptive; it’s the tactic of blame-shifting and minimization and responsibility avoidance.

        The problem in domestic abuse is that the abuser abuses. It is the abuser’s problem. Period. The abuser’s defective and disordered character (his thinking and behavior) is the problem. I’m sounding like a stuck record… but that’s how you have to be with abusers. Even George Simon Jr (my favourite psychologist) says that he often sounds like a stuck record when he’s talking to abusers who are not owning their problem. So I guess we are all in good company if we sound like a stuck record when we talk about abuse. 🙂

  4. Brightsun, during the marriage I often hoped that I wouldn’t get seriously ill, because if I did, my husband would not show me any real care. I experienced his coldness and neglect when I was in the hospital for several operations and it hurt me deeply. Now i fully realize why I left his flowers at the nursing station when I left the hospital the last time.

  5. Bright, I grew up with a man who is the pastor of my childhood (and early adult) church for going on 30+ years now. Early in his pastorate, his wife came down with a rare form of encephalitis that essentially all but lobotomized her for over a year. During that time, he took a leave of absence and devoted all his time to caring for her. It was a selfless act of love that spoke deeply to all of us.

    Another selfless act of love is that the church rallied around him, paying his salary for him. A number of us filled in the pulpit and took over many of the other jobs he did so that he would not have to worry about the church. Where some people would leave a church in a heartbeat if they couldn’t hear their favorite pastor every Sunday, we didn’t lose on member over that. Everyone pitched in to help. I think everyone became stronger for the experience.

    This woman recovered fully and is back to her old, cheery self, and I know their marriage is all the stronger for it. One thing that Ron (the pastor) told people about why this happened is that he doesn’t know, but he does know that every person truly called of God will go through some crisis in their lives that will test their mettle. He just thanks God that he was able to endure it.

  6. “Well here’s one for all of you. My daughter has been repeatedly told, that the only reason she should ever further her education, any form of it, including theological or biblical studies, is if she is doing it so she can further aid and build her future husband’s career or ministry. She has no man in mind, no ring on her finger, and not even a prospect of a husband, but her only reason for gaining understanding or knowledge, would be for him. ”

    Does it strike anyone as strange that some of us as Christians are treating women only a little better than the Taliban and other Muslim groups? We may not make them wear burkhas, but we sure restrict them in so many ways.

    What you are describing here is what I am hearing about a fairly well known Baptist seminary (which I won’t name because I haven’t confirmed what I was told by a recent graduate). It appears that this school is even restricting the degrees a woman can get to those that would not lead to her being in church leadership. Essentially, I was told, they want the women to take courses that would make them better helpers to their husbands, teaching Sunday School, home making, etc.

    1. Yes, yes, Wendell! I agree whole-heartedly. And I know that seminary of which you speak. And that is how we women were treated at the first seminary I attended (I switched over to Liberty later). I felt SO OPPRESSED. And, as I have mentioned in the post, it is easy to mistake who God is for “who the seminary says God is”. So, I began to believe that God only created me to do very limited things….work in the church nursery….accompany on the piano in the background, etc. I would cry quietly, feeling like a “baby machine”. I lost sight of who God was and who I AM in relationship to Him. I had to fight hard, a war in my soul and heart, to understand Him again….and to see and know that He created me to worship Him as Megan….to be the most “Megan” I could be and that He was pleased by that.

  7. Ah yes…the weeping over lost souls but abusing and demonstrating scorn for the wife of his use. How appropriate, I am using voice to text and was trying to write the “wife of his youth” and for some reason the back space key will not backspace and will will not let me erase the word “use”. (or the second will) Appropriate? Yes, because she was used in every sense of the word.

  8. (Light airbrushing…)

    I think, in some aspects, many “c”hurches / “C”hristians focus too much on a person’s marital status, period. Whether an individual is single, married, widowed, or divorced, stereotypes are applied / assumed.

    The labelling / stereotyping extends to pastors, their spouses, and their children. I cannot imagine living in a pastoral fishbowl. (I have experience in a fishbowl of another kind.)

    Yes, some expectations are higher for the pastoral family. Couldn’t that be said for any Christian, as opposed to “C”hristian?

    When I was younger, I unconsciously made my own assumptions about pastoral families. In one case, the older children called me street-slang names. In another case, the pastor’s wife attempted to manipulate me.

    I have yet to meet an example of a Christian pastoral family face-to-face.

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