John Piper’s old church is admitting to fault in how it has addressed domestic abuse, and making changes.
Pastor Jason Meyer at John Piper’s old Church (Bethlehem Baptist) preached a sermon on Domestic Abuse last Sunday (sermon: Fooled By False Leadership [Internet Archive link. Scroll part way down the page to read the text of the sermon. Editors.]). Many are hopeful change is taking place. I am pessimistically hopeful.
Why hopeful? Because I really do hope the evil of abuse in the church is beginning to be exposed and called out.
Why do I remain pessimistic right now? Because I read nothing in Jason’s sermon about four acid tests that evidence real change:
- There was no mention that abuse is indeed biblical grounds for divorce.
- There was no acknowledgment of the profound rarity of true repentance by abusers (in fact, Jason issued a call to abusers to repent and reminded them that such repentance is their only hope).
- Jason and the elders at Bethlehem issued an invitation to victims to come to them and get help (he acknowledged that the church had “disappointed” some abuse victims in the past).
- What is the intent of the church leadership? Is their intent to “save and fix this marriage”?
Why are these tests so vital?
First, if a church still will not acknowledge divorce for abuse, then that church fails on every other count as a true and safe ally of the victim. Remember! Bethlehem church is the long-time preaching base of John Piper, infamous to us for his no divorce ever for any reason whatsoever permanence view bondage teaching.
Second, if there is still an undue emphasis upon bringing the abuser to repentance, victims will still be entangled in “waiting” for that repentance. Jason’s first statement in his conclusion, after reading the elders’ statement on domestic abuse, was a call to abusers to repent.
And third, what is wrong with an invitation to help victims? Nothing, if the nature of that help is healthy and right. On our Facebook page yesterday I posted about this (link) and said I want to hear from Bethlehem church that they intend to ask the victim how they can help, rather than tell her what they are going to do, and what she must do as well. I posed the question: What will victims receive now when they go to the Bethlehem church leadership? Books and resources to become educated about the abuse, about their abuser, about the effects of the abuse on themselves? Leaders asking her how they can help? Or will they be faced with more of a “never fear, dear sister. We will handle this” style from the leadership?
And fourth, if their intent is to “save and fix this marriage” and that is their primary goal, then they still are walking in ways that will continue to enable the abuser and increase the victim’s suffering.
On our Facebook post, a woman called Sara Engle Anderson submitted some comments and in fairness to her we are reproducing the essentials here. Sara wrote:
I am a member at Bethlehem. And I am a campus care coordinator for our new DART ministry, Domestic Abuse Response Team, who has worked with a team of women developing training, safety plans, etc for our First Responders and Care Teams.
Our goal is not to fix the marriage. We are asking the women how we can help. We are aware we have not done everything right in the past. We are spending time with good resources, professional counsellors, abused women, etc to right the wrongs and move forward according to God’s Word, which instructs us to care for the abused and cast out the abuser if there is no repentance. Abuse is not a marriage issue. We are aware there are wolves. Praise God for Jason and elders who “get it” and are committed to this ministry.
I replied to Sara:
Thank you Sara. If you can do so, would you tell the pastor and elders that many people are waiting to hear the church leaders there announce that they reject John Piper’s no-divorce-for-any-reason-ever teaching that has enslaved so many abuse victims? That is an honest question, I am not being accusatory toward you or the pastor and elders at all. But it is our conclusion here at ACFJ that if a ministry is truly going to be a help to victims and an exposer of abusers, it must embrace the fact that God allows divorce for abuse.
John Piper was instrumental in my husband’s spiritual growth (and mine to a lesser degree). It doesn’t mean we agree with everything he said. We had a few things we didn’t agree with. I cannot speak for Jason or the elders…..but I can say that I expect them to hold up GOD’S WORD….and what He says. In many meetings with them, I know that is their heart’s desire. I am confident that as situations come to light and things are born out….there will be evidence of where they stand on such matters (it is not my place to say at this time, obviously). Thank you for your blog and the Cry For Justice book — I have found so much to be so helpful to me on this journey of ministering to the abused.
And in other comments Sara said:
We are fully aware and involved with lawyers and CPS and police as needed. We are not just concerned with the letter of the law and what it requires. We are working on utilizing the law for a paper trail, civil discipline, etc as warranted. Keep in mind that a lot of abuse can be emotional or verbal which is not against the law.
Re the importance of asking the victim how they can help, not telling her what they are going to do, and what she must do as well, Sara commented:
Our DART resource manual is just beginning to be filled with things like that to help us all. We understand abused women have been controlled for so long. We are wanting to walk WITH them as they move forward. While we continually point them to God’s Word for hope and counsel and wisdom, we are walking along side them….not pulling them along on a leash. Every situation is different. Just this week I am helping a woman navigate car repairs and attending a meeting with another woman and our campus pastor to see what she needs from us. So thankful for our team and how over the last several months God has been knitting it all together perfectly. Every step has blown us away by his faithfulness.
Barbara Roberts wrote this further down in the FB thread:
Sara, a lot of survivors of domestic abuse have been cruelly hurt by Biblical Counselors’ advice. Some of us are very leery of the title ‘Biblical Counselor’. While John Henderson’s input [John Henderson is the Biblical Counselor whom Bethlehem Baptist Church consulted to learn more about domestic abuse] to your church’s change of mind does seem to have been helpful, I think I can speak for many survivors in saying that we are still cautious about how safe it may be. We would like to hear Bethlehem take a stand, in this change you are making, by announcing loud and clear that in the past so-called Biblical (or Nouthetic) Counseling has been grossly unjust to victims of abuse by ascribing the victim’s distress to the victim’s own sin. This needs a 100% proclamation of reversal and apology to victims.
Also Sara, if I may make another suggestion, we know for a fact that some women have been in Bethlehem Baptist Church in the past and been treated immensely unjustly when they sought help from the church about the abuse they were suffering from their husbands. Some of these women have left BBC because of the way they were treated. Will BBC be addressing the wrongs they have done in the past in such cases, and making full specific confession, apology and reparation where possible? I’m not thinking of financial reparation firstly, or even necessarily; I’m thinking of the kind of reparation that gives vindication to the maligned woman by confessing how the church has hurt the victim, and publicly denouncing her abusive and unreformed husband (or ex-husband) for what he has done to his wife and to the church by passing himself off as a nice Christian man. . .