A Cry For Justice

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

The idolatry of marriage – the church is putting marriage on a pedestal

[July 19, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

This hymn was sung recently in a church service I attended. I don’t like the hymn much because it seems almost like idolatry of the Cross — the piece of wood — rather than worship of God. But it gave me an idea for a post.

Here are the words of the original hymn [Internet Archive link]:

In the cross of Christ I glory

In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.

When the woes of life o’ertake me,
hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
never shall the cross forsake me.
Lo! it glows with peace and joy.

When the sun of bliss is beaming
light and love upon my way,
from the cross the radiance streaming
adds more luster to the day.

Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,
by the cross are sanctified;
peace is there that knows no measure,
joys that through all time abide.

In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.

And here is my parody of the lyrics:

In my Christian marriage I glory

In my Christian marriage I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.

When the woes of life o’ertake me,
hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
ne’er shall I forsake this marriage.
Even if it lacks all joy.

When my spouse’s sins are reaming
fear and shame into my soul
I will channel Christ’s love beaming
Trusting God to make him whole

Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,
all by marriage are sanctified;
suffering shall be my treasure,
dying to self, I shall abide

Marriage doth display God’s glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
comes from husband’s head sublime.

Much of the conservative church has become idolatrous in regards to marriage. Some even claim that a primary purpose of marriage is to illustrate the covenant love of God, and therefore it’s more important to maintain the outward appearance of marriage than to maintain the spiritual and physical health and safety of the individuals within it. And who benefits from this set-up? The abusers. Only the abusers. The world thinks the church is mad to keep victims of abuse in bondage with their abusers. It is most unlikely that any unbeliever is seeing the general state of marriage in the church and thinking “Gee, that makes me want to become a Christian.”

That vast majority of professionals I know in the domestic violence and justice sector are very cynical about Christianity because they have seen so much cover-up and minimization of the abuser’s crimes by the church. Trying to give the Gospel to such people is virtually impossible; there is so much pre-evangelism that you have to do before you can even mention the majesty, love, justice, righteousness and power of Jesus Christ. They can’t see further than all the stories they’ve heard from their clients or witnessed in courtrooms about the church: that it protects abusers and makes the lives of victims even more dangerous than they already are.

The idolatry of marriage produces a travesty of justice. It twists Scripture, it harms victims of abuse, and it is turning the conservative church into a club for abusers and their blinded sheep rather than the body of Christ in which believers can be fed and find solace and encouragement.

And to those who think I’m exaggerating and this is not true for most of the conservative church but only for some extremist groups, my questions to you are:

If you accept that this is true for some sections of the conservative church but not yours, and not you, why are we not hearing your voices in the cry for justice? Why are you silent? Why are you letting this go on under your watch? There is no neutrality in this battle. If you are not with the victims and crying out on their behalf, you are inadvertently helping the abusers. Do you want to do that?

[July 19, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to July 19, 2022 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 July 19, 2022 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 July 19, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 19, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


  1. Jeff S

    So I’ll have to admit, I don’t share your criticism of the original (like “The Old Rugged Cross” I see the songs as viewing the cross as a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice), but yikes your parody is downright scary. It’s scary because it’s so accurate. This is the new Gospel, where marriage has replaced the cross as the tool of our redemption.

    I could see people adopting your parody as truth if they were unaware of its source.

    • Memphis Rayne

      Ya when I was told by the church “My marriage is my cross to bare” I was confused by that? I thought Jesus died on the cross so we would be free? Was His attitude “”Well I did it!! Now it’s YOUR turn!” I know I am Scripturally handicapped, and am a simpleton in regards to how I am approaching this, but my understanding of marriage in God’s eyes was that is was a GOOD thing, not always easy BUT designed for our pleasure? I am scared of the level of sheer evil that exists in the mentality of the church, I liken it to Mafia-mentality, if anybody speaks out, or breaks the secrecy, you are clubbed, bones are snapped, then you are tossed in an alley dumpster.

      From the experience I had, the Christian community was at war with the world, their mission was to cut ties with the secular world (I mean at least one day a week), elevate themselves to a higher status, and claim they were “set apart” by God for the higher calling of desecrating families. All along the threat was not coming from the outside influences, but rather from the people they deemed Christians just because they “SAID SO”. I get why outside people are turned off by church….abuse, slavery, prison, hell, hypocrisy, double standards, oppression….I dunno? Maybe it’s just all too glamorous for me?

      • I’ve been a church-attending Christian since 1994 (and I still am, in a slightly eccentric fashion, on terms I deem safest and wisest for myself and my commitment to the kind of work this blog is engaged in). Many is the time since 1994 I have said that the only reason I am still a Christian is because Jesus revealed His inexpressible love and mercy to me. If having so-called fellowship with other church-attenders were the primary reason for me to attend church, I would have stopped going long ago. Christians sometimes shoot their wounded; I know that’s a cliche, but it’s so often true.

        But if any unbeliever is reading this blog, I want to assure you that God is not like what the visible church is so often like. God, Jesus, my Saviour, my Brother, my Lord, is inexpressibly wonderful and comforting and perfect and righteous. Anyone who know Him knows this and stays in His fold because of Him, not because of the anyone else.

      • Kagi

        This, the idea of abusive marriage being her cross to bear, is basically where my mom is still at….and she’s bearing it with inhuman grace, but I am still trying to get her to see that not only she doesn’t have to, but it doesn’t actually bring glory to God to allow my dad to treat her the way he does when everybody who knows them can see that it’s not Scriptural or Christ-like in the least, that it’s unholy and damaging and abuse and that it’s not her eternal calling just to ‘put up with him’ for her entire life.

  2. Barnabasintraining

    Some even claim that a primary purpose of marriage is to illustrate the covenant love of God, and therefore it’s more important to maintain the outward appearance of marriage than to maintain the spiritual and physical health and safety of the individuals within it.

    Suppose for a minute this were the case, that this was the purpose of marriage. Then these people are all that much more bound to require such a blasphemous misrepresentation of this relationship as is seen in the abusive marriage be brought to a swift and decisive end. How is it that they come to the opposite conclusion? How is this not a case of whitewashed sepulchers filled with dead men’s bones?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Quite the portrayal of Christ’s “love” for His Bride? The portrait then painted by abuse in a “Christian” marriage is that of Christ cruelly and wickedly oppressing His Bride, and she being called to submit to this “god” no matter what. Blasphemous misrepresentation indeed!

    • Anonymous

      This is exactly what I have been saying. If the marriage is representative of Christ and His Bride, then aren’t we just communicating that Jesus is a woman hater / abuser, by requiring women / men to remain in abusive marriages? It is blasphemous to God, for abusive marriages to remain intact.

      So for those just joining and those who need reminding, what do we say, when we are confronted with the “purpose of marriage is to show the covenant love of God” and to do so, we need to be faithful to the faithless spouse. I say, that belief gives all the more reason to end the marriage and quickly, just as BIT states! The Bible does say that marriage is a covenant and isn’t marriage supposed to represent Christ and His Bride, the Church?

      • Kagi

        This is what I have struggled with and eventually come to believe in dealing with my parents, that after multiple demonstrations of faithlessness on my dad’s part, no change in his abusive attitudes and very little in his behaviour, that no amount of “faithfulness” on the part of the wife can restore the marriage covenant which is already broken without serious, major changes and true repentance and….whatever that other R word is, my brain is mushy right now….but those true changes and deep transformation, recommitment not just to the marriage but to God on the part of the abusive husband. (Or wife, if that is your situation. 🙂 )

        But that an abusive marriage is basically a situation of faithlessness and broken marriage vows, in the same way that infidelity is — and, I believe, they often coexist, I know they did in my dad’s case — and when that happens, it’s not actually God’s plan nor glorifying Him in any way, actually it’s a reproach on His name, to allow such a twisted interpretation of “faithfulness” which is actually faithless to go on in the name of “keeping a covenant” – which in truth, actually inherently requires true faithfulness to ALL the vows thereof on the part of both parties. Which doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes or be imperfect reflections of Christ and His bride, of course we will, but abuse is a different situation altogether, and it breaks my heart how many people don’t realise that.

      • Wendell G

        What we have done is set marriage up as a contract without an escape clause. Even God left Himself an escape clause in His covenant with Israel; a covenant they broke and an escape clause that He exercised.

        What is a contract without a clause that allows for termination if one side does not meet its obligations? Slavery, and the church has done a good job of making abuse victims slaves to the master of the marriage contract and thus their abusers.

        How “nice” for the abusers and tragic for the victims!

  3. Wendell G

    I will take a crack at your very last paragraph. Perhaps one reason for the attitude you mention is that the church keeps the average member blissfully (sic) ignorant of the abuse within its own walls. The pastors, at least most of them, are not going to talk about it much as it is too controversial a topic and to talk about specific situations could potentially violate confidentiality.

    Pastors like Jeff C., who will make this topic a focus are rare because few pastors will risk the angst of going against the ecclesiastical grain with its resulting loss in membership. So the average church member sits in their pew, hearing about the sacredness of marriage and how it must never be abandoned, thinking that all is well in their world.

    After all, abuse victims rarely will bring it up for fear of retribution (by the church or their spouse), so the endless cycle continues. Even if you get a church member to wake up and smell the abuse, they will usually fall on the default position they have always been taught; “suck it up and stay in the marriage or be labeled with the Scarlet Letter.”

    • Jeff Crippen

      Wendell – much of this refusal to stand is just plain cowardice. If you stand for victims, you will be threatened – overtly and covertly. We have received threats because of this blog. I have received threatening phone calls. There have been threats and insinuations that if this subject is pursued, well, we can just expect to be ostracized by other churches and pastors or even by church members. When you stand with victims, you become (like the victim) “unpleasant” to be around. “Can’t we just talk about happy things?” “You are always so negative.” “Well”, I answer — “how can we be happy, happy, happy, when we know full well that people are suffering like this? Sorry to burst everyone’s happy place bubble.”

      • Saved By Grace

        Bursting bubbles is what needs to occur. Most churches appear to conduct their affairs as if they live in their own little bubble without impact or accountability from outside. In my experience and observations, the church wants to avoid the messiness of life so to give the appearance of being right, pious, good. Yet no one is willing to expose the skeletons in the closet.

        Let us continue to burst bubbles and open closet doors to expose the corruption within.

      • Wendell G

        Yeah, as if Christ always talked “the happy talk”….

      • iamdarlene

        Thank you, Pastor Crippen! I wouldn’t have become aware it was emotional abuse that was happening in my marriage for almost 57 years if it hadn’t been for the Lord providing me with Barbara Robert’s name. Through her name I found “A Cry For Justice” and when I came here I listened to many of your sermons.

        My husband and I talked with our pastor several times. At the end of our last talk, our pastor wasn’t sure what to do. My husband saw a counselor for awhile and he wanted to see me. I went to see him and he told me about a lady who had been beaten every day for six years. Then he said “do you know what I’d tell her if she came to me and told me that?” Then he told me this….I’d say, “how did you get your husband to do that? My wife can’t even get me to take out the garbage.”

        He was blaming the wife for getting beaten! He was suggesting that she made her husband beat her!!

        I personally am very thankful for your sermons on abuse and the helpful things that are posted here!!

  4. AJ

    I have not been able to wrap my head around the idea that it upholds the sacredness of covenant to keep it together as a couple but it does not tarnish the covenant to allow abuse!!

    Love this post, idolatry has been on my mind so much lately. How can a person truly follow Christ when they live with someone who constantly, incessantly, never stops demanding to be worshiped. Even when they are not around the environment is such that we all tiptoe around, obsessing about what he will be angry about when he returns. Makes no difference which direction you tiptoe because he will be mad about any or all of them.

    Blessings on all of you as you journey.

  5. Katy

    Keeping the Christian divorce rate below the rate of the secular population isn’t likely to sway anyone into the arms of our loving Father — but insisting that domestic abuse victims stay in those marriages (or, if they leave, they must spend the rest of their lives alone) — very rightly gives the “c”hurch a black eye!
    I’m so glad that I found my true church here with all of you. Bless all of you. ((hugs)) 🙂

    • Jeff Crippen


    • Jeff S

      I’m so glad that I found my true church here with all of you.

      I must admit that in the forefront of my mind with the technology we are using to broadcast the fundraiser concert for ANFL is the idea of using it for e-worship. I would LOVE to worship God corporately with all of you!

      Megan and I have actually been talking about doing an “e-worship service” with some praise songs and a message led over the internet using “StageIt” (the website we are using for the concert). I don’t know if it would “feel” worshipful or like community because we wouldn’t be able to hear one another, but who knows until we try? Reading this thread has made me more inclinced to do it once and see how it goes.

  6. Jeff Crippen

    Is there something wrong with this scenario (looking at children in an abusive home here) —

    The Sunday School class starts up with songs and music. One of the favorites is “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart….and I’m so happy, so very happy….” And there, sitting in the class is Johnny. Johnny isn’t happy. Johnny heard his father call his mom some filthy names last night. And it wasn’t the first time. Johnny thinks that if he could just do better and better and better, his dad would stop being mean and their family could be happy.

    So what I am saying is, what if there are people in our churches who don’t feel the joy of the love of Jesus? What if they aren’t “so happy”? Doesn’t this kind of thing then become one big pretend at best, or a psychological “if you think it you can make it happen” mind game? Sure, let’s sing about the joy of the Lord. But there has to be room for recognizing that when we gather together on Sunday mornings, there are probably people who it would be more appropriate to lead in singing a Psalm about how the wicked have risen up and how long, O Lord, until you deliver me?

    But then, that’s not a happy place, is it?

    • Katy

      You know those types of hymns (about being oppressed and longing for deliverance) were sung by the slaves. The African American spirituals were not “Fred and Ginger” dance numbers. For good reason. And the fact that all we ever sing or talk about in church is the positive stuff – never oppression – I think it’s just indicative of the overall state of our modern churches. The total focus on positivity and appearances. Or maybe we are lulled into a false sense of security — because we don’t have overt slavery and war in our towns every day, and we all show up to church in our suits and ties, that means that evil isn’t here with us…. uh huh…. right.

      • Jeff S

        Yes, apparently Christians are only allowed to write music about 1% of the things that happen in our lives – that which makes us overjoyed. Crazy that Jesus was once described as a “Man of sorrows” and yet we aren’t allowed to display any ourselves.

        At small group tonight we talked about the evil around us – in the neighborhood of one of our members a man went crazy and started shooting at people, resulting in his death. Rick Warren’s son committed suicide. Boston bombing. I recalled a few years ago when my sister’s best friend was abducted and murdered.

        There is plenty in this life to make us feel ill, and rightly so. I was just talking to Jeff C about a song that I don’t like to do as a worship leader: “Trading My Sorrows” where the worship leader puts words in every congregation member’s mouth that they are trading sorrows for the joy of the Lord. What does that even mean? Is that a right song to ask a parent who just lost her son in a car crash the night before?

        Of the dystopian novels, which one is more scary: “1984” [also written Nineteen Eighty-Four [Internet Archive link]1.] or Brave New World [Internet Archive link]1. The former is so overtly hostile, but in the latter everyone just drugs themselves into a perfect life where no one really lives or cares about anything. Is the Christian church beginning to take on that appearance? When I see everybody smiling on the outside and claiming they are trading their sorrows I feel that way. In MY life my sorrows were not “traded” – REAL sorrow was attacked, ripped out, and stomped on by the Lord, and it wasn’t exactly a pleasant process for me. But they were defeated. 🙂

        I’ve talked a lot about the new album I’m working on (it’s coming, I promise!) and one of the hardest struggles I’ve had was with a song called “I Never Knew” because it’s a song directed at those who hurt me. I admit that I worry many people will not find it uplifting and think me “bitter”. But why should only the ungodly get to write TRUE songs about their pain, anger, and frustration?

        Ugh, this hit a nerve and I rambled a bit. But the bottom line is – we need churches that encourage people to be real, not fake. God sees it all anyway – so why are we fronting?

        1[November 8, 2022: We added the links to Wikipedia’s pages for the novels Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. The Internet Archive links are copies of those pages. EDitors.]

      • That’s one of the reasons I attend church in my own eccentric fashion these days. When there happens to be a hymn that is about God’s justice, I sing boldly and loudly and I don’t restrain myself from letting my body language be a bit demonstrative of my inner joy and exultation at God’s Justice. I often find myself praying inwardly for our blog readers, when I’m deeply moved in the middle of such hymns. I know my volume and body language probably disturb some people. I sit at the back, to minimise that problem.

        I know my kind of conduct during such hymns is not normal in the kinds of churches I usually attend. But I am there to worship and praise God and if that’s the kind of song which most makes me feel like praising God, why should I desist? I am past playing the mask game.

      • Memphis Rayne

        SHPS strikes again!!! (“shiny happy people syndrome”) I admit I hid things. I became a Sunday afternoon Broadway star, smiling, and fabulous regardless of what happen that morning….once I realized the majority of people did not respond well to emotions, I became a closet Christian….other than the glossy-eyed woman standing alone in the immaculate green fields filled with daisies, effortlessly producing flawless flowing white linens blowing in the background….oops that’s an image of a detergent commercial? lol. Well in order for me to maintain the status of my womanly emotionless responsibility as a Christian wife, I had to watch a lot of detergent commercials, and use them as a visual tool to keep looking calm, refreshed, and Christian-ish….

        My point is this lack of emotion, this conditioned response from churches to “remain stoic at all times” it’s enough to make me want to hurl. Church turned into people coming and their experience of whether service was good or bad, hinged on “Was I entertained?” “Do I feel better about myself now?” Putting money in the tithing box was always a better substitute for the good-feeling seekers. The amount of emotion that you were allowed to express was limited to the awkward handshake you were supposed to give the nearest stranger, and the five word sentence that was scripted for you from the pulpit….for those of us that are shy, this was a nightmare!! A reminder of P.E. from Jr High when nobody picks you to be apart of the team…. Honestly I rather they ask me to pickpocket the person in front of me!! I found my self praying “Please God do not make me have to do this!”

        How can you have true fellowship if you are not allowed to express human emotions? It’s no secret we are in fact human beings? The outside world is not buying into the luster of ridiculous phoniness? God’s not buying it either? So who is it for? The “lingo”? I am guilty of that too, I would hear somebody say something right on cue, then I would repeat the same darn thing as if it were my original thought, and guess what? It IS easier!!! It took little to no emotion or thought on my part to repeat!! “I….AM….ROBOT!!”

        On the flip side, I knew a lady that EVERYTHING was death and doom…. If you were positive or feeling hopeful about ANYTHING she was right there to remind you she was in a trial of sorts, like her car was in the shop and she was forced to drive the “Hummer” to church, or her nail broke while making macaroni salad (eeeew)? She thought that people who were not in continuous turmoil were in fact not Christians? Every breath of every day this woman was in a trial, somebody could of had a limb removed and she had a bigger trump card for sympathy…. She was older and I looked up to her as a mentor of sorts, she called my house one day dying with an “emergency”. I grab up my kids and try to rush to her house, I found her laying on the sofa, feet up, TV on, claiming (I kid you not, seriously this is the truth) she “had hemorrhoids and she had a bag of clothes she desperately wanted to return for refund and needed me to take them to the store for her and return them”….haha so funny now.

        I WAS in continuous despair, so I was certain I was in fact a Christian, everybody else was so happy? So effortless? If I did not hide my despair then I truly thought at one point I may not of been saved? The MIW told me all the time I wasn’t saved, because a real Christian would not complain about being his perfect little punching bag…. Well this lady also believed the crap about marriage regardless of the situation [it] was the woman’s job to uphold. Her attitude was indeed, “If I have to suffer at all, so does everyone else!!!” Now that I think about it? She may have in fact been abusive? OR her self-worth was wrapped up in the cause of suffering? Sorry got off the subject.

        [Paragraph break added to enhance readability. Editors.]

      • Anonymous

        Well, Barb, I am actually quite sick of the “church-goer” mentality that says, “We’re here. Everybody leave your problems in the car and let’s go to church!”. Then, when you get back in the car, all your problems are all still there. No! We are to take all of those things to God, but there are some churches that seem to prefer fake over real life. God says that we are to lift holy hands unto Him. I would love to hear you singing your heart out to God on Sunday, while the rest wonder what the heck is wrong with you! It proves something. It proves you are free and they are bound. It proves you know Him and know you are free to boldly approach His throne. The rest don’t have to care if they get there or not. They can linger in a life of believing that God is too far away to care, and remain bound, if they wish to.

      • Barnabasintraining

        (“shiny happy people syndrome”)

        LOVE this.

        I gave up SHPS years ago and feel much better for it. I got sick and tired of the same happy clappy nonsense no one actually feels if they are suffering and honest. Well, I chose honest. It’s had interesting results.

        One person said about me, “One thing we know for sure, with (Barnabasintraining) you’ll get the truth.” I haven’t figured out if that was a compliment. 😉

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments. I just want to apologise for the scantiness of my interaction here or any other threads. I’m in the last days of countdown for a trip to the States. Very exciting….and very busy. All my stuff here will be safely looked after by my boarders, friends and family.

    • Brian

      Safe travels, Barbara!

      Growing up in that belief system, I can identify with what you wrote today here. I have not been involved with any regularity in a “church” for many years due to the same problems mentioned here in several comments above. How can we expect a child to embrace a system or faith that he was raised in when children see all the hypocrisy and politics in churches? Again, not every church or group of fellowshipping believers has rampant problems like these, but it was all too common in all of the churches I attended for any length of time, plus church splits, scandal, you name it. And people wonder why many kids grow up pushing away from church and sometimes their faith altogether. Could it be they were left to assume their faith wasn’t real after all the bad stuff they saw and endured from people professing to be believers or Christians (especially one or both parents). You cannot completely fool kids all the time! You might think you can, but you cannot. They see through the facade. Eventually. I did, but years later.

      I stayed in “church” for awhile as a teen an then young adult, knowing many of the things I saw, heard, and experienced, did not feel right to me as a believer. But I realize now after growing up in all that dogma and traditionalism, it took years of being away from what I now believe is a mostly broken system with a thinly veiled business / money focus, and looking for and finding a better, more open and honest way to worship God every day and waking moment possible, in all of my actions, thoughts, and words throughout each day.

      I was invited to come meet with a secular trauma specialist counselor that a dear friend of mine is taking her kids to see once per month. The mom is a poster [commenter] here as well once in a while when she has time. Apparently her three kids had mentioned me to the counselor and some of the positive things I had been trying to do in their lives when I have time to give to them. They have been through so much with their abusive father and are still having to go see him every other weekend. While we spoke in private, she mentioned that in her 30 years of counseling, which she loves and is passionate about, she could say without exception that THE WORST, most pervasive cases she has had to deal with involving abuse of EVERY kind, were in families from churches that spew the false teachings mentioned above by others, and in families tied to the very conservative Christian University nearby here in upstate South Carolina. I was not surprised in the least. I attended school there to her surprise, so I knew already firsthand the serious problems that come from that teaching and their churches, one of which my dear friend was a member.

      So I am with Katy. All of you here are part of my “church” along with many other wonderful people out there I have yet to meet on this journey. I like the biblical meaning of the word “church”….can you tell? The Body of Christ, the true believers. By their fruits will you know them!

    • iamdarlene

      Enjoy your trip, Barbara! By any chance will you be coming to Illinois?

      • Not this time. Maybe next time. 🙂

    • Barnabasintraining

      Have fun, Barbara!

      Everything around the country is in various stages of bloom so it should be pretty when you get here.

  8. cindy burrell

    Excellent piece! I wonder if the church will ever open its eyes to the horrors that occur in its midst and – with its consent? We can only pray that God will make a way — and speak up for the victims and God’s truth when we have the opportunity.

  9. Song of joy

    The Bride is the Church, and the groom is Jesus Christ. Yes, that’s the symbolism of the Bible.

    BUT….whenever a Christian is in marriage bondage to an evil, unrepentant abuser, I’m appalled that the church would consider that marriage a “sacred” picture….of what exactly is that a picture of?

    It’s not a representation of the Church and Jesus Christ….rather it’s something quite horrible.

    Why can’t the following Scriptures apply to marriage, when one spouse acts like the devil, even though they may loudly claim otherwise?

    Abuser described:

    John 8:44 —

    Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. [KJV]

    Is marriage with an abuser, sacred? NO.

    2 Corinthians 6:14-15

    Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? [KJV]

    • Memphis Rayne

      Ya I have had that as Scriptural abuse, the use of 2 Cor as stated by Song of Joy used by an abuser to conclude in his mind that IF you as a victim want to leave, YOU are in fact NOT the Christian therefore guess who is to blame for the break up? IF I did not chose to stay and love the MIW through his abuse, then I was deemed the unbeliever. The MIW reveled in this, went out of his way to prove my lack of responsiveness towards him as my husband was indeed the PROOF that “AH HA!!! I was not the Christian”….guess what? An entire congregation would easily back that up!!! Their sick messed up thinking is if I REALLY loved God I would of proved my love by letting somebody else kill me (and I am sorry that makes as much sense as skimmed milk).

      Maybe as the “martyr” they would have a memorial in my name showing my Godly commitment to die for my wedding vows? Most likely though it would go something like “Woopsy daisy? I wonder why he killed her? If it was that bad why didn’t she leave?” “Maybe we should of payed closer attention???….Nah? We gotta get back to preparing for our annual need-a-new building fundraiser….” Demented and sick, right? When you are being abused it is so difficult to cut through the crap that everyone is force-feeding you just to keep you under their lock and key.

      [Paragraph break added to enhance readability. Editors.]

  10. KayE

    Life experience has made me way more cynical than nonbelievers about church. The “nice happy church people” don’t see the horrors of abuse because they require victims to be silent or force them out altogether. Then the victims can be discounted as backsliders or even as non-Christians.

  11. are the red flags I am seeing at my church [or in my spouse / friend / sibling / parent / employer] really there or is it just me being fearful?

    Ah! Isn’t that the 64 million dollar question!

    I think one of the most insidiously things about abuse is how it teaches us not to trust ourselves.

  12. Jeff S

    In my current church, which I like very much, we were going through a book about time management and one of the suggestions was to “collapse” all of our relationships so that we aren’t spending our time running from relationship to relationship. That is, if our friends are involved in the church then we can satisfy our need for fellowship with our church as well as the time spent with our friends more time efficiently.

    When I told the group that I wasn’t willing to put all my eggs in one relational basket because I’ve felt what happens when all your friends are tied to church and you find yourself on the outside, the others in my group just couldn’t understand it. They told me “sometimes you just have to trust”. I said “yeah, I’ve been there – sometimes I DON’T have to trust”.

    They weren’t being mean or even controlling – they just really don’t see how difficult it can be to feel like you have a say in your own life if all of your relationships are controlled by the church. And by “controlled by the church”, I don’t mean overtly (though I know that happens in some churches) – but the truth is, if your local church body is your entire social base, then it’s a lot harder to take a stand if you believe something different from your church.

    I do think my church is a good one and I’ve talked through abuse issues with my pastor – I know where he stands. But I just don’t want to be so committed in all of my relationships that I don’t have the personal freedom to pull out if necessary. I guess that sounds really bad, but it’s necessary for me – I just cannot turn my life over to my church community without having an exit strategy. Fortunately, I DO have relationships outside of my church, and ALSO fortunately they don’t run me ragged, so from a time management standpoint this isn’t a problem.

    But I guess my point with all of this is — once you’ve been burned you may have “needs” that other people don’t understand, and you might be a little gun-shy about trusting others. I don’t think we should feel we have to just let down the walls all at once, and a good church shouldn’t expect you to either. By the same token, those with different experiences may not “get it”, but that’s OK too – as long as they are respectful of the boundaries we set.

    • Anonymous

      My personal thought, Jeff S, is that may be a “red flag” of sorts. Putting all your life into one church, sort of sounds like they think they “are” the church of choice and you should just trust them for everything in your life. Wise decision you have made and happy that they did not frown upon your stance. I am not saying not to commit to one church, but to have all your relationships there, with none outside of there seems rather strapping and speaking very softly – cultish. Jesus never said anything like that and we are His followers, not a denomination’s or select church’s.

    • Jeff S

      It could be a “red flag” – but remember that this was really discussed on the context of time management – the idea came from a book that we were doing that didn’t come from our church. It was more of a pragmatic idea than anything (and actually, later in the book the author encouraged this “collapsing” to be more built around neighborhood community than church community, but we hadn’t gotten that far in the book at the time of the discussion) – but it did set off a trigger.

    • Barnabasintraining

      I guess that sounds really bad, but it’s necessary for me

      Not only does that not sound bad, it sounds Biblical.

      Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, for you do not know what evil will be on the earth. (Eccl 11:2 [NKJV])

      The Bible prescribes diversification in investing, which even the world knows is the best way to do it. I think you are wise to diversify your relationships.

    • Barnabasintraining

      What book is it, Jeff?

      • Jeff S

        It’s called “Making Room For Life”. I was not a fan, but not necessarily for anything having to do with this thread. I think it’s probably a helpful book if you are a white upper middle class family with 2 – 5 kids who are old enough to make intelligent dinner conversation living in the suburbs.

        But as a single parent of a 3 year old, it just really wasn’t relevant to my life. I didn’t hide that fact, though, and they were respectful of that. Now we are doing a study of Galatians by Tim Keller and I’m loving it, so it’s all good.

  13. KingsDaughter

    Maybe it’s me, but when I hear the “marriage is a reflection of Christ and the Church” it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I think it PROVES the fact that abuse should not be tolerated and abusers are WRONG. If the man were the proper “godly” head of the home as Christ is the head of the Church, then he would be demonstrating that through selfless love, not selfish abuse. Jesus is the perfect demonstration of love and what it looks like fleshed out, to me that just bolsters the stand against domestic abuse. Just because most don’t get it, doesn’t diminish the power of what it should be, for me anyway.

    • Jeff S

      For me —

      marriage is a reflection of Christ and the Church

      —had a lot more attached to it. I was told that Christ would never abandon me no matter how much I sinned and He would endure anything we could hurl at Him, so that was my job in the marriage. He would never break the covenant no matter how bad I acted, so I should view my marriage the same way. I was also told that “Christ died for the Church, so it was my job to suffer likewise” (though in my case there wasn’t any physical threat of death).

      I agree marriage certainly is a reflection of Christ and the Church, but a lot can get poured into that that God never intended.

      • Anonymous

        So out of curiosity, Jeff S, how did you answer those who told you, “marriage is a covenant”, which it is, but would add “just like the covenant God has made with His people, and you are not to break it, because how would you like it if God broke His covenant with you?!?” I would like to know what your response to them was, because you have learned a lot. Also, my take is that if God abuses and beats His sheep (which He does not), then He really would not be keeping covenant with us, even though we were in covenant.

      • Jeff S

        Well, sadly I responded by trying harder and dying inside a little more. 😦

        That particular advice came at a very dark time for me when I still was trying to be obedient to the church’s direction.

      • Anonoymous

        Most of us have been there and done that. Anything you would share about how you would answer that today? Thanks for sharing.

      • Jeff S

        I would answer that the marriage covenant is not analogous to our relationship with Christ the way they are making it. We are not talking about a Redeemer-redeemed relationship. And also, the idea that the word “covenant” means the contract is unbreakable is false. The kind of one sided covenant Jesus has with us is unique, and when we take marriage vows we both make promises.

      • KingsDaughter

        Jeff S, I had not looked at it from the husband’s perspective but can see how they used that to manipulate you. I see that people inside and outside the body get things twisted. That’s why it’s so important for us to learn the truth and then speak the real truth in love, for those inside and outside the church…. As for marriage being a reflection of the church, it might have been good for them to consider that Jesus did not accept unrepentant sinners into His fellowship. He turned the tables of the money changers, He called out Pharisees and anyone who followed Him was called to turn from sin.

        It so bothers me when people who really have no idea who Jesus is use Him to manipulate people! I have unsaved relatives that love to say “Jesus was not a snob, He loved everyone and therefore so should you! Stop judging and let me sin!” Grrrr! Such a travesty!

        Those of us with tender consciences are so susceptible to this! I’m so thankful that He promised that those who seek WILL find, even those who have believed lies, we can still find Him (and His truth)!

  14. Little Chrissy

    Your parody is so very clever, Barbara! Unfortunately, I can imagine the “good ole boys” from the church I just left adopting it for use in their church service and proudly belting it out — especially when any woman in the congregation asks for help from the church because her husband is an abuser or adulterer! The pastor there likes to throw out “God hates divorce” and “the Bible tells us to fight for our marriage.” ??? It is so clear now: they do put marriage on a pedestal and are abusers themselves.

  15. bright sunshinin' day

    Commenter Cindy Burrell wrote:

    I wonder if the church will ever open its eyes to the horrors that occur in its midst and – with its consent? We can only pray that God will make a way — and speak up for the victims and God’s truth when we have the opportunity.

    I like this encouragement to pray and speak when we have opportunity. A dear older friend shared a phrase with me that has helped me navigate in many situations including the church setting: “Take the best and leave the rest.” For me, sometimes this means that there is enough good in a particular setting amongst a group of people to stay. Even if they do not understand all the ins and outs of abuse, some in the group are willing to listen and learn and I’m willing to teach them what I’ve learned. Other times, I’ve found that a particular group of people have a rotten foundation, led by what appears to be Ezekiel 34 shepherds (watch out!), and in such a cases, it is time to “leave the rest” with a clear conscience!

    Thank God for the freedom to choose the best! Gal 5:1.

  16. stray sheep

    I’ve had my share of experiences with cowardly, dishonest, butt-covering Christians, pastors esp. and with a home in which violence and sadistic cruelty was the norm. Entering the church from a background of violence and harm with the hope that the church was different, was quite a shock and very confusing. When I would hear things like “Honor thy father and mother” without any qualifying information, what I heard was that church was no escape from abuse but in fact, a sanctification of it! I thought it meant that honoring was equal to obeying them even when what they wanted was sinful. Same with “deny yourself” or “die to self”. I thought it meant I had to agree not to exist as myself, that self in that sense was bad and displeasing to God. Obviously this was because I was “reading” the Bible through the warped functional understandings and beliefs of my own family dynamics and hadn’t enough solid biblical understanding or thinking skills to know how to think my way through such a tangle! Really needed help to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    One of the things that really, really angered me was the way the church would pretend that everyone came from a solid Christian family of several generations and so had the same understanding of things. Almost as if by pretending that things are the way they are supposed to be, we can make it so and by acknowledging that they are not, we are somehow discrediting God and approving a counter-biblical way of life. It was incredibly depersonalizing to sit there and hear messages addressed to “normal” people from solid Christian backgrounds, as though those of us from severely messed up backgrounds didn’t exist and therefore didn’t need to be acknowledged, let alone addressed. It was almost like a punishment for not being what we should have been. There was such a huge gulf between these “normal” people who dressed conservatively and led white middle class cultural-Christian lives and people like me who knew what it was like to be afraid to come home, lived in houses with angry violent parents, and knew our neighbors heard the screaming but wouldn’t do a thing about it. Notice I said “cultural Christianity” not biblical Christianity. Nowadays I think the pendulum has gone the other way so that the church is now OVER oriented towards issues and wounds to the exclusion of solid Bible teaching and active leadership as opposed to passive, figurehead leadership.

    Cultural Christianity is about maintaining the status quo so we can all feel respectable in our “Christian country club of friendly relationships, fun activities and positive regard for one another”. It is, unfortunately, a neutered and whitewashed brand of religion that maintains enough of an outward form of godliness to look like the real thing, but has no power to save anyone. It is, as Dorothy Sayers put it [Internet Archive link]1:

    a paring of the claws of the lion of Judah. [Paraphrase of Dorothy L. Sayers.]

    One of the big reasons that the whole church practices collective denial is because church discipline is no longer practiced in a Scripturally mandated way and God’s word is not actually followed; rather we “use” the Bible for our own purposes and make it say what we want to hear and ignore the parts we don’t like. It’s no different than a household with permissive, lax parents. Kids learn pretty quick that there is no point appealing to mom or dad to deal with brother’s constant stealing or sister’s trashing of one’s possessions because mom and dad are useless and ineffectual, just want to be everyone’s buddy, and justice will not come from there. So everyone outwardly strikes the pose that things are fine in our family but inwardly retreats and tries to keep a low profile to avoid harm. No one wants to rock the boat and risk having to stand alone against a hostile crowd. In a home where parents deal with things justly, swiftly and impartially with love, there is order, justice, love and health and everyone is fairly secure.

    When I refer to church discipline, I’m not talking about churches that abuse it and use it to get rid of anyone who dares challenge a corrupt leadership. I am talking about a church that follows the Bible and actually thinks it means what it says and should be done and not merely talked about and preached about. Pastors who teach that abusive spouses may go on sinning, because they haven’t got the kahunas to confront sin, being more concerned about their approval rating, are worse than infidels because they’ve failed to provide properly for God’s sheep. This is a case where church discipline carried out properly would bring a quick end to a situation rather than allow it to go on for years unabated. A spouse who willfully refused repentance and accountability would be deemed an unbeliever who is unwilling to live together in peace which would allow for a dissolution of such a marriage after a reasonable period of time in which the whole church ardently and with grief and mercy pursued disciplining the sinning one. This is sadly rare, I know but should not be. Yet properly practiced, church discipline in which the ENTIRE church body is committed to snatching others from the fire and to actually living out the love in the body as commanded, there is often restoration and change occurring. Not always but often. It’s because of the cowardly refusal of men of God to do as God says, that Christ’s name is blasphemed among unbelievers and His word brought into question as supporting evil rather than mitigating against it.

    1[November 9, 2022: We added the link to the goodreads page containing the Dorothy L. Sayers quote (from Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine) Stray Sheep quoted. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

    • Wendell G

      Well put, Stray Sheep!

    • Fantastic words, Stray Sheep.

      And I especially relate to this:

      ….the church would pretend that everyone came from a solid Christian family of several generations and so had the same understanding of things. Almost as if by pretending that things are the way they are supposed to be, we can make it so and by acknowledging that they are not, we are somehow discrediting God and approving a counter-biblical way of life. It was incredibly depersonalizing to sit there and hear messages addressed to “normal” people from solid Christian backgrounds, as though those of us from severely messed up backgrounds didn’t exist and therefore didn’t need to be acknowledged, let alone addressed. It was almost like a punishment for not being what we should have been. There was such a huge gulf between these “normal” people who dressed conservatively and led white middle class cultural-Christian lives and people like me….

      That kind of thing sickens me too. We must not be unduly harsh on people who have grown up in cotton-woolled cultural Christianity. But we do need to alert them to their narrowness of vision, and explain to them that their ideas about Christianity are not in full accord with the Bible. It’s very hard to galvanize them, though. They are the majority in so many churches.

      Have you read Mending the Soul [*Affiliate link] by Steven Tracy? In it he quotes a letter from a woman in one of his early congregations. She had grown up in an abusive home and she felt the same way you described in your comment above: ignored and hurt by the blinkered way the pastors (including Tracy) were preaching about family matters. It was her brave, honest and confronting letter which was instrumental in waking up Steve Tracy to the issues of abuse.

      We need to honour all parts of the body, including those who have had horrendous abuse and are lacerated and muddied from the world.

      *Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
  17. thepersistentwidow

    Stray Sheep, you are absolutely correct. The historic “Belgic Confession”, “Article 29”, states that discipline is one of the marks of the true church, and lack of or misappropriation of discipline is an identifier of the false church. Further, “Article 29” states:

    These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.

    I only realized what kind of church I was in AFTER I brought the abuse to their attention, but glad I found out the truth. Better late than never. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • IamMyBeloved's


      Seems lots here have been in a false church….

  18. stray sheep

    Wow, didn’t know that about the “Belgic Confession” but I can see why it’s true; whatever floats to the top is indicative of the actual reality producing it. Glad to know that’s a foundational and historic truth that’s been there all along. 🙂

    • thepersistentwidow

      Barb wrote a post on the “Belgic Confession” here:
      How to Find a Real Church — from the Belgic Confession of Faith
      There must have always been a lot of bad churches and there are more than we would expect around today! The test still stands.

      • Good grief, I’d forgotten I’d written that post about the “Belgic Confession”. Thanks for reminding me, PW!

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