A Cry For Justice

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

Scripture Does Not Preclude Abuse Victims from Suing Abusive Churches

UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


Rom 13:1-4 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (2) Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (3) For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, (4) for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

I am still working my way through the great biography of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton called Here I Stand. Like the Apostle Paul, Luther appealed to Caesar. The Pope had already issued the famous bull (Exsurge Domine it was called from its very first phrase, “Arise, O Lord’) to ex-communicate Luther. The “church” had refused to listen to Scripture and had so corrupted the gospel that men were enslaved to man-made traditions in the most cruel ways. The church needed reform.

Luther, having done all he could to confront this corruption, said finally, “For me the die is cast. I despise alike Roman fury and Roman favor. I will not be reconciled to or communicate with them.” Not bad advice, by the way, for dealing with an abuser.  He resolved to appeal his case to “Caesar,” that is, to the civil ruler, Charles V. Luther had also written a treatise entitled Address to the German Nobility which called upon the German ruling class as well to prosecute reform in a corrupt church.

Now, Bainton asks this valid question: But by what right, the modern reader may well inquire, might Luther call upon them to reform the Church?” And Bainton continues, explaining Luther’s reasoning:

The question has more than an antiquarian interest, because some contend that in this tract Luther broke with his earlier view of the Church as a persecuted remnant and laid instead the basis for a church allied with and subservient to the state.  Luther adduced three grounds for his appeal. The first was simply that the magistrate was the magistrate ordained of God to punish evildoers. All that Luther demanded of the magistrate as magistrate was that he should hale the clergy before the civil courts, protect citizens against ecclesiastical extortion, and vindicate the state in the exercise of civil functions from clerical (church) interference…. The theocratic pretensions of the Church were to be repulsed.

Understand? Luther argued, and I agree fully, that when church leaders become evildoers, they cannot run and hide behind 1 Corinthians 6 (i.e., don’t take one another to court) because they, like every human being, are subject to the civil authorities and the civil laws of the land. When those laws are violated, it behooves the God-ordained civil magistrate (the police, the courts) to intervene and punish the evildoers.

We here at ACFJ, therefore, have and will continue to encourage abuse victims who have been abused by their churches to such degrees as the civil and or criminal laws of the state have been violated, to prosecute or sue the guilty. To do the very thing Luther did and the Apostle Paul did – appeal to Caesar. That is really what turning to the police or civil courts is – appealing to Caesar to render justice when a “church” has become so corrupted that the sword of the law must be brought to bear upon it.

Notice that last phrase Bainton used to describe Luther’s position: “The theocratic pretensions of the Church were to be repulsed.” That is to say, the church has no right to try to establish itself as a theocracy. God has established the church and He has established the state, and both have their distinct realms to function in. Of late we are seeing this principle violated. Church leaders cover up abuse, even child sexual abuse, telling victims not to report the matter to the police. They will handle it “in house.”  NO! The “house” is corrupt at that point and it is time for some thorough house-cleaning. Very often the broom is the civil authorities.

Yes! Arise O Lord, indeed! There is a wild boar in your Church, but it isn’t Martin Luther!


  1. MrsMomToSix

    In my attempt to look up what the state my daughter was ‘prosecuted’ by ‘the church’ in, to see what the state laws are for the clergy to report domestic violence, I found something called the history of the battered women’s movement, here, History of Battered Women’s Movement [Internet Archive link], it looks more like a history of ‘the church’ allowing abuse of wives…

    But, I did find this also regarding state by state laws about who is required to report abuse to authorities, and, ‘the clergy’ is one listed in many states, as being required to report cases of abuse. Though it does appear that it refers to abuse of the aging population more than the women and children of abuse. (Reporting Requirements: Provisions and Citations in Adult Protective Services Laws, by State [Internet Archive link])

  2. LorenHaas

    You know, you may get your church liability insurance cancelled for this. 😉

    I completely agree with you about suing churches/staff over complicity in abuse.

    Many years ago I did some cabinet work for a law firm in San Jose, CA. They had a very impressive office and I added some expensive walnut bookcases. While working there I learned that they had won a class-action lawsuit against Ford Motor Company regarding the “exploding gas tanks” they installed in their Pinto model. It seems that more than two dozen people had been killed by fires linked to protruding bolts that ruptured the tank in a rear end collision. The lawsuit disclosed a memo by Ford suggesting that it would be cheaper to defend any lawsuits than to make the redesign and recall that would have fixed the “problem”. The huge settlement of the class-action lawsuit and surrounding publicity forced Ford to rethink their earlier cost/benefit analysis and they offered a recall and repair.

    Perhaps a series of lawsuits could may a difference in a “biblical understanding” of abuse where common decency has failed.

    • Katy

      exactly Loren. Enough churches get hit with lawsuits over their treatment of victims of domestic violence, and perhaps they will suddenly realize the need for “further study”.

      I have daydreams about certain churches having to empty their fat coffers into attorneys’ pockets. sigh.

    • Loren I agree with this: “Perhaps a series of lawsuits could may a difference in a “biblical understanding” of abuse where common decency has failed.”
      I expressed similar thoughts in a post in June 2012:
      Warning to Pastors — you could face court for not dealing with domestic abuse properly

      • LorenHaas

        A leadership group that I am in at our church just announced the intention to partner with our communitie’s domestic violence shelter in presenting a seminar for pastors and lay leaders on recognizing and preventing domestic violence. We are looking at a January date. More information will be forthcoming.
        Perhaps the lawsuit issue will be brought up?

      • Great, Loren. Let us know more details when you can, so we can publicise the event. If you create a FB page for the event, that is an easy way to share it and spread the word.

      • IamMyBeloved's

        Very interested in that, Loren. Are they looking for others to speak there?

  3. Ang

    I haven’t felt like singing in a long time. Thanks, Jeff!
    John Cale – Hallelujah (Lyrics)

    • Thanks Ang. I’d never really known those lyrics before, only the chorus and the harmonies. Very moving.

  4. As I See It Only

    I think you are correct about taking ecclesiastical abuse (including covering up abuse rather than dealing with it) to the civil authorities. It is not only a right, but an obligation–to speak the truth, to expose the false, to warn unsuspecting prey. Where I come from, here’s how things happen in the civil arena: (1) If I file a lawsuit–costing me $20,000 or so–the best I could hope for is that the state will force the church to follow its own rules. The problem is, the church is already very good at appearing to following its own rules while doing nothing. (2) Rather than file a law suit, I filed a (free to me) human rights complaint. Of course I lost, being told up front by the civil authority that ‘we don’t touch churches’. I pursued it anyway, just to go through the motions and to clear my conscience. If anyone out there has any suggestions on how to expose the abuse churches heap on victims, I’m all ears.

  5. IamMyBeloved's

    In order for the civil realm to be brought in, the laws of the State you reside in, have to have been broken. None of us are above the law, and clergy who believe they are above the law, just because they are clergy, need to understand God’s Word here, and fear God. The civil Court system does not interfere with Church issues, unless they have broken laws. Not reporting, in a mandatory reporting state, is breaking the law. There are also other state laws that may have been broken, so you have to know the laws of your own state. Covering up child abuse, whether sexual or not, and dealing with it “in house” as noted in the post, would be breaking the law in a mandatory reporting state. There are many other situations that could apply as breaking the law as well, even not reporting domestic abuse.

    Funny. The laws of some states make it mandatory for clergy to report child abuse, and yet the Court system can then hand the children back over to their abuser, once it gets into their hands. Good grief! What IS the point?

    If God needs to use the civil authorities to sweep His house and clean it up, then He will do it. Be assured.

    This was an excellent, excellent and informational post. Thank you.

  6. Mere Dreamer

    Oh, if only the church could see the legal system as also being designed by God! He does claim to participate in its manifestation, after all… (and I do wonder what we think cannot be turned to his purposes, when we know nothing can exist without him.)

    The mission organization within which I grew up had some vile pedophiles and abusers working in its ranks. They “handled it” in-house, at the time … which only meant they quietly shuffled these people off to their next “ministry” and smothered all gossip so the mission reputation wouldn’t be damaged. And oh, the destruction that continues to this day as a result of those foolish decisions! I’m not sure why any Christian can think hiding sin (even others’ sin) does not perpetrate more and worse … it seems clear in the Bible, also.

    The new mission leadership is finally allowing the legal system to do the job for which God designed it, retrospectively, only now they are also dealing with years of bitterness and searing pain that stewed in the shadows beneath the secrecy. My friends were far more deeply damaged by the long wait for justice, because it trivialized the cause of their pain.

    • My friends were far more deeply damaged by the long wait for justice, because it trivialized the cause of their pain.

      Yes, MD, when victims disclose and are given responses that minimize their pain and sweep the sin under the carpet, the injury is far worse. I have said many times that the way my church responded to my disclosure of the abuse hurt almost as much, if not more, than the abuse itself.

  7. The comment below was submitted by email, from one of our regular commenters who prefers to remain anon for this one.

    Hi, This is an interesting topic. I would like to read more about women who have tried the legal avenue and what basis is needed. Could you write more about this? All the info about Martin Luther is not as interesting or pertinent.

    • We are aware of a few cases where victims are suing pastors or churches which mishandled the domestic abuse, and/or where victims are pursuing the case as high as they can take it up the denominational hierarchy to get the system changed. But we are not at liberty at this stage to discuss these cases on the blog. If anyone has a case they can safely share here, feel free.

  8. A Bruised Reed

    Barbara, I am.interested in pusuing this. I have no funds for a lawyer, however. Any suggestions?

    • Here is a comment on the SSB blog.
      Christian Domestic Discipline (Wife Spanking): A Personal Story, and a Closer Look at Patterns Connected with this Abusive Practice [Internet Archive link]

      It is part of a thread about Wife Spanking being ‘justified’ as ‘c’hristian domestic discipline by over-entitled, harsh husbands.

      The comment is not about suing churches but suing the abusive husband. I’m putting the link here because it is so encouraging and supportive for survivors, and because I like the suggestion it has about how to get an abuser to put in writing what they have done. . . 🙂

    • That’s a tricky one! No funds for a lawyer would I guess mean you need to find some way of obtaining free (pro bono) legal representation. I do not have any names or exact suggestions to give you, unfortunately. But I’ll alert one of our readers to your query as she may have some suggestions. I know her pretty well and am somewhat familiar with her legal battles thus far. I think she may have tips on how one might find free legal representation.

      My only other suggestion would be to contact your local domestic violence service providers (women’s shelters, women’s legal centers, DV outreach services, etc.) and ask them whether legal aid it is available in your area.

      The best case scenario would be that some wonderful lawyer who was au fait with DV and very supportive of victims and very outraged about the injustices they suffer from some churches, would take a case like yours for free because it would be a test case, and thus it might set a legal precedent that could open the door for other victims to get proper protection and justice from their churches.

      Hey, it’s worth dreaming and praying, isn’t it! 🙂

    • IamMyBeloved's

      Bruised Reed, please seek legal aid through a state agency that will provide free legal advice and representation. If you do not qualify, call your state bar association and ask for a list of lawyers who do pro bono work. Don’t stop until you find someone to help you. They are out there! I will pray you find one.

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