A Cry For Justice

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

Leadership, Power and Authority in the Church and Home — by Diane Langberg, PhD

As a Christian psychologist, Diane Langberg has worked with many victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and genocide; and also with people who have abused power in positions of Christian leadership.

Diane is a practicing psychologist whose clinical expertise includes 40 years of working with trauma survivors and clergy. She is director of Diane Langberg, PhD & Associates, a group practice in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a faculty member of Westminster Theological Seminary. She is the author of Counsel for Pastors’ Wives (Zondervan), Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Xulon Press) and On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Tyndale House). She is Chair of the Executive Board of the American Association of Christian Counselors, serves on the boards of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) and the Society for Christian Psychology. She is also the founder of The Place of Refuge, an inner city, non-profit trauma and training centre.  [bio adapted from the Forum of Christian Leaders website]

Here is Diane’s presentation Leadership, Power and Authority in the Church and Home, a talk she gave to the Forum of Christian Leaders, European Leadership Forum, Budapest, 23 May 2010.

Alternative link to the video can be found here.

You can find other talks and resources by Diane Langberg at her website (Diane Langberg).

Below is a partial transcript of what Diane says in this presentation (transcribed and published here with Diane’s permission).

Bear in mind that Diane is speaking about the psychology of how Christian leaders can misuse power. I believe that what she says applies just as well to domestic abusers as to Christian leaders who misuse their power in the church.

21’10”   Self deception becomes like a narcotic. . . . It deeply habituates the soul to looking at things that is diametrically opposed to the way God sees them.

23’30”  I don’t want to face myself, I want to deceive myself; I administer the narcotic of self-deceit in order to avoid the pain and humiliation of looking at my own sinful heart and responses.

We also deceive ourselves by comparing and contrasting, we compare a bad thing we’re doing to a good thing we’re doing, with the implication that somehow the good thing lessens the bad. So I cheat on my taxes but I go to church. Or I’m unkind and neglectful of my spouse because the ministry is so difficult and I’m really committed to this ministry.

We apply the narcotic of self-deception in order to maintain a good image of ourselves, even though we know what we are doing is wrong. So we use all manner of self deceptions to protect ourselves from information that would cause us to see ourselves in ways we do not like.

And this mechanism enables us to ignore sin, to commit wrong, and to doing that feel justified and even righteous, while we in the meantime avoid facing our failures, abuses and sins with repentant hearts.

And of course deceiving ourselves like this, it is not a very big step from self deception to deceiving others, because what we want is to draw them into our web of deception so they don’t confront us, right?

So we work with them because we don’t want to receive their input, we don’t want their criticism, we don’t want their confrontation, we do not want to be held accountable. Those things become threats to our image of ourselves as leaders. And so we use the power of our position or our verbal power to entrap others in our self deception.

And if we cannot get them to agree with us about ourselves, we at least work to shut them up. We get them to think we are fine when we are not, that what we are doing is really good when it is not.

We get others eventually to be complicit in wrong behavior with us; we silence them by our words and our knowledge, and so we end up as Christians hiding our sins, fudging numbers and sometimes sanctioning immorality in leadership.

And I have say to you that I have over the years heard all manner of blatant sinful behavior justified in incredibly outrageous ways. And due to the narcotic of self deception the person who is doing this, and sitting in front of me, believes that wrong is right, and in fact has often got others to agree.

So for example, an entire leadership in a church agrees together that it is actually good for the body of Christ to keep hidden from them that the man in the pulpit every Sunday is living immorally.

Secrecy is called good. Sin is ignored or denied, because, if we expose the sin and speak the truth, it will damage the church. And somehow we become convinced that it is godly to preserve the form, even though the substance is absolutely wrong.

And if we know our scriptures, we only have to look at God and his relationship to Israel: and when Israel maintained the form and had a rotten substance, he blew that nation apart. He did not want the appearance of holiness. He wanted true inward and outward holiness in his people. And that has not changed.

Now deception — of self and of others — eventually leads to coercion . . . We’re doing something by force, basically: the word coerce literally means ‘to surround’. … The threat of dire consequences is enough often to force people into silence. . . Sometimes we can coerce people through emotion. . . what we do is show fear about the ruin of what will occur if the truth is told. . .

30’45”  The abuse of power involves these three components: self deception, the deception of others, and the coercion of others. It deceives and confuses followers. And the one of course abusing their power is clearly deceived and confused, and they bear like fruit in others. The abuse of power, no matter how small a way that we do it, requires deadening our ability to discern good from evil. Which if we stop to think about that, is an absolutely terrifying place to be.


  1. Leslie

    Barbara, this is an incredible “find”. This is so spot on and articulates so clearly what I’ve seen play out with some leadership…and of course there is a distinct link to spousal abuse of power as well. Thank you for sharing this with us !!

  2. Forrest

    Thank you for sharing this, Barbara. It reminds me of what God said to Samuel, when He sent him to Bethlehem to anoint David.

    1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

    It seems to me that churches are often only concerned with the external appearance. One example of this is when they want the marriage to appear to be intact even when it has ceased to exist in reality. They just want things to look good.

    We need to get to the underlying problem. Deal with the disease rather than simply treating the outward symptoms.

  3. Anonymous

    I just found this. I didn’t realize it’s from 2 months ago. Really helpful!

    Her words really do apply to dv. As a victim still in an abusive marriage a lot of her phrases really jump out at me:

    “And somehow we become convinced that it is godly to preserve the form, even though the substance is absolutely wrong.”

    Yes! I think thoi is also true about the church’s response to abusive marriages! They preserve the form of marriage even though the substance is wrong. How many marriages in our churches are preserving the form but are hiding domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual addiction and abuse? That’s the way the church leadership seems to want it – don’t expose those things it might give Christian marriage or the Church a bad name. Even though we all love the dramatic conversion stories of the addict who was transformed by Christ.

    The Church seems so supposedly intent on preserving marriage, yet offers nothing of substance and real help to those in difficult or abusive marriages. Just preaching “divorce is always wrong”, “forgive a cheating spouse” submit to your husband so he isn’t afraid to lead”, and an assumption that all divorce is due to a selfish and a casual view of marriage. And marriage books either present an idealized, impractical, overspiritualized view of marriage, or the ones that attempt to get more practical are somehow shallow and disappointing and often based on false assumptions or premises. I’m talking about the Christian ones! (If I hear the “factoid” about women needing to speak more words than men I think I’ll scream! I have been tortured by an overabundance of my husband’s abusive, manipulative & “persuasive” words for years!)

    And this…
    “The threat of dire consequences is enough often to force people into silence. . . Sometimes we can coerce people through emotion. . . what we do is show fear about the ruin of what will occur if the truth is told. . .”

    This is what it’s like to be a victim! He coerces me through fear of supposed dire consequences if I try to change things.

    Once, when I said to someone, “But God hates divorce!” She replied, “God hates the things leading to divorce!” Wise words. When will the Church start dealing with the things leading to divorce?

    • Dear Anonymous, yes, thanks for your comments. And glad you found Diane’s words helpful. It is so wonderful when an experience Christian psychologist says things that affirms our reality. The pattern of coercive control is a key indicator of domestic abuse, isn’t it?

  4. thepersistentwidow

    Anonymous, You are so right! It is mindboggling how the professing church handles domestic abuse. As you stated it, “offers nothing of substance and real help to those in difficult or abusive marriages.” Yes, they make matters worse for everyone by their incompentent and dishonest intervention, are a disgrace before the world, and a stumbling block for Christians trying to protect their family. Thanks for your insightful comments.

  5. sharpsheep

    Just peeked in for a second haven’t had a chance to view Diane’s presentation, but the words “Maintaining the form while the substance is wrong” stuck out to me because they are very similar to the scripture that says “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” That’s being content as long as things look good but caring not a whit how they actually are.

  6. Barnabasintraining

    “The only Godly response to vulnerability is protection.”


  7. Barnabasintraining

    Oh. Wow. So I finally just finished listening to this. This might be the best talk I’ve ever heard on leadership. Or maybe on anything.

  8. MeganC

    I think we were moving when this was published! I didn’t realize we had a lecture from Diane Langberg. She is one of the professors (??? not sure that is the right word) for the Crisis certification I am working on! She is wonderful! I will listen to this tonight . . . .

  9. Finding Answers

    In listening to the presentation, I could understand the the application beyond any realm of leadership. I agree factors of position, skill, physical size, etc. “up the anti”, so to speak.

    I was encouraged, too, by her inclusion of the abdication of power. In saying this, however, I am not referring to the abused who “may appear to abdicate power” to save their lives and / or the lives of their children.

    My main disagreement is her reference to the person abusing power being anxious and insecure. Sometimes this may, indeed, be the case. I can personally think of at least two cases where this is not the truth. One person is truly evil.

    Her presentation – with the biblical references – has left me food for thought.

    • My main disagreement is her reference to the person abusing power being anxious and insecure.

      I have that concern about Diane Langerg too. I have other concerns about her work as well.

      I emailed her expressing my concerns about her work, using examples of things she has said… and she has not replied to my email.

      So it seems that she is yet another Christian professional working in the field of abuse, who only partly gets it.

      I am very disappointed, but not all that surprised that she has ignored me. Why pay attention to someone who gives you constructive criticism you, when you are being feted by so many other influential people?

      People like me – an abuse victim who has become an advocate for other victims and who is calling out many of the professionals who are working in the field, are rare. So people like Diane probably think they can afford to ignore me.

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