An Introduction to Evil: Message Delivered at York, PA
Fred and Bonnie Wilt, Founders of OCP
The following message was given by Jeff Crippen at the Overcoming Powerlessness luncheon in York, Philadelphia, on Saturday May 2nd, 2015. Of course, in person, the “script” is not strictly followed, but this manuscript gives the main points of the presentation. Once again, many, many thanks to Fred and Bonnie Wilt and all of the OCP volunteers and board members who made this all happen. Toward the end of this message Jeff drew from a great article by Barbara Roberts on how not to be duped by the abuser while trying to help his victim.
“My health is poor. I am too sick really to get a job. Auto-immune diseases, no doubt from the over two decades of living with the stress of this marriage. I feel no union with him. We live under one roof, but not really. And yet I doubt. Have I really been abused? I used to go to church but I cannot go on with the charade, nor can I stand to see him smiling and being popular and playing the wonderful Christian, fooling everyone. Have I really been abused? Can you help me to know?”
A human being necessarily must possess a certain degree of autonomy to be healthy. Call it freedom. Call it power and control over oneself . . . We all require the freedom and ability to make decisions, to choose a direction, sort things out or pursue things that we enjoy. I am not speaking here of complete autonomy — being my own person and no one ever is going to tell ME what to do, be true to myself no matter what anyone else thinks or who gets trodden upon! No. That is anarchy and it victimizes others. I am speaking about the freedom and ability to be a person with a healthy sense of self, having a dignity and value.
We agree that it is a very bad thing for us to have our personhood and sense of identity and being taken away from us. We call such people prisoners, such as those imprisoned in some concentration camp, assigned a number, and punished or killed just for being an individual. People who are owned by others are called slaves, and that is not a condition that any of us desire to be in. They have a blank stare in their eyes. Ultimately, if the trauma is not stopped and treatment is not rendered, victims of this kind of abuse can become almost robotic as if they lost their own soul. For them to recover is a kind of new birth.
In the course of my 12 years as a police officer, and now 32 years as a pastor, I have become well-acquainted with what I can only call evil. And my purpose here today is to attempt to give you an introduction to that evil. Many people do not want to hear about it. They want to hear pleasant things, and evil is not pleasant. But we are foolish and uncaring if we refuse to face up to this thing which moment by moment is oppressing others.
Now, my world is the church. Not completely — I like to go down to the little general store in our small community, talk about hunting and fishing with the owner and some of the customers and relax. But largely, my world is the church. The people I deal with are mostly professing Christians, and it is my calling to take the Bible each week, believing that it is the inspired Word of God, teach it, explain it, and apply it for our congregation. So I will be speaking of experiences with evil that I have had primarily in the setting of the local Christian church. But evil is evil wherever it is found, and you can apply the things I am going to talk about to every arena of your life: the workplace, school, your community, and so on.
One of the fundamental traits of evil, and thus of evil people, is that it craves power and control. The Bible opens with Satan craftily working to wrest power from God, and it is thought that the following words describe his original fall from grace:
Isaiah 14:13-14 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.
Lust for power. For ultimate and complete power, you see. Wherever you find evil, you will see this quality in it. The evil man would be god to those he craves to control and possess. “Bow down and worship me! Serve me!” God of course demands this, but because He IS God, it is just and right for Him, but not for any human being. When men regard themselves as God, they become Hitlers and Stalins and….the person we call an abuser. This is the kind of person I want to talk to you about today. In learning about him, you will be introduced to evil as perhaps you never have been before.
The Abuser as Evil
An abuser is not merely a person who is difficult to get along with, or who can be rather controlling. He is not a person who has a problem with some kind of uncontrolled anger. He is not even a person who on occasion acts abusively toward others — we all are guilty of that. Let’s first define abuse and then abuser. These definitions are vital. What is it we are talking about in this seminar, on our blog, and in our books? Abuser, abuse . . . what is this thing? Who are these people?
Abuse is a pattern of coercive control (through ongoing actions OR inactions) that proceed from a mentality of entitlement to power and control and which is used against another person to subject them to unjustified (and thus evil) power and control. This abuse can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social or physical. Not all of these elements need be present in abuse (i.e., physical abuse may never be exercised by some abusers).
A domestic abuser is a family member (usually a spouse) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one(s) he (or she) chooses to abuse. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using an array of tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.
If you want to be wise about evil, if you desire to have wisdom regarding abuse and abusers, then know these definitions well. The rest of what I am about to say flows out of these two points. How we respond to abusers and their victims, how we deal with these cases, how we can develop the ability to stop being duped by this evil . . . all of this and more flows out of these basic definitions.
The probability is that each one of you knows an abuser, even if you don’t realize that you do! This creature is not something that is uncommon. If you read the newspaper regularly you know this. Abusers are everywhere, wearing their disguises, sitting in church pews appearing to be godly saints. Others are pastors who are regarded as “the most godly person” anyone has ever met. They are police officers, lawyers, doctors. They come in all races and nationalities, in every socio-economic stratum of society. And when they are “outed,” you hear neighbors and acquaintances all saying the same thing: “I can’t believe it. He was such a normal, nice, upstanding guy.”
The Darkness of Evil (the Fog)
Wickedness and darkness go together, right? Abusers walk in darkness. It is their medium of choice, and they are often masters at using it to hide their evil and to deceive us. In our work at A Cry for Justice, we call this darkness “the fog of abuse.” Victims who have read our articles and books will often write to us and say something like “I am just now coming out of the fog.” What is this fog, this darkness that characterizes the evil of abuse?
First of all, abusers (many of them are, by the way, without conscience so that they feel absolutely justified in using wicked tactics to control others)… typically wear a disguise. A façade. They are wolves in wool. Evil does this, you know. Think about it. Good people do not wear a wolf’s disguise. But wolves love to wear wool. They want to look like good, kind, harmless sheep. They are anything but that. I recommend that you read some books on the sociopath or psychopath and become familiar with their traits and tactics. There is a resource list on your handout where you can find books on these subjects. If you do not educate yourself about the evil mentality and tactics of abuse, you most certainly will be duped by the abuser, even tricked into becoming his ally against the abuse victim.
Because of the deceptiveness of abuse, victims are thrown into a confused mental state:
“I was married for 20+ years. Looking back, I can recognize now the mind games and trickery by husband played on me but I was unaware of the tactics at the time. My husband is a very talented and affable man. He is well-liked by many, mostly those among whom he works.”
Ultimately this lady had to call child protective services. But in the short term, her husband worked to demean her, calling her a nagging wife, dripping faucet, unloving, unmerciful, judgmental and so on in front of their daughter.
Now, notice the nature of those accusatory terms — they are biblical, Christian words. Used correctly, they are good because they point out sin. But this man uses Bible language to parade as a fine Christian and most people think that he is. For many years, often decades of marriage, victims of these abusers believe that they are the problem, that they must do better . . .but this is all quite untrue.
Now, because of this lying and deceiving and the wearing of disguises of persona, a common scenario plays itself out when a victim finally realizes she must ask someone for help. Often in my world, she goes to her pastor. Let me describe for you what happens. Not occasionally. Not just sometimes. But normally. Victim after victim after victim write to us and tell us this is precisely what they experienced in their church and with their close family members. Here it is:
- Victim reports abuse to her pastor.
- Pastor does not believe her claims, or at least believes they are greatly exaggerated. After all, he “knows” her husband to be one of the finest Christian men he knows, a pillar of the church.
- Pastor minimizes the severity of the abuse. His goal is often, frankly — damage control (to himself and to his church).
- Pastor indirectly (or not so indirectly!) implies that the victim needs to do better in her role as wife and mother and as a Christian. He concludes that all such scenarios are a “50/50” blame sharing.
- Pastor sends the victim home, back to the abuser — after praying with her and entrusting the problem to the Lord.
- Pastor believes he has done his job.
- Victim returns, reporting that nothing has changed. She has tried harder and prayed, but the abuse has continued.
- Pastor decides to do some counseling. He says, “I will have a little talk with your husband” or “I am sure that all three of us can sit down and work this all out.” Either of these routes only results in further and more intense abuse of the victim. This counseling can go on for years! (One victim reported that it dragged on for nine years in her case).
- As time passes, the victim becomes the guilty party in the eyes of the pastor and others. She is the one causing the commotion. She is pressured by the pastor and others in the church to stop rebelling, to submit to her husband, and stop causing division in the church.
- After more time passes, the victim separates from or divorces the abuser. The church has refused to believe her, has persistently covered up the abuse, has failed to obey the law and report the abuse to the police, and has refused to exercise church discipline against the abuser. Ironically, warnings of impending church discipline are often directed against the victim!
- The final terrible injustice is that the victim is the one who must leave the church, while the abuser remains a member in good standing, having successfully duped the pastor and church into believing that his victim was the real problem. One abuse victim (a man in this case) told me that he finally came to the awakening that “I know exactly what my church is going to do about my abuser —Nothing!” He left while she remained a member in good standing, the daughter of a leading pastor in the denomination.
I observed a similar pattern firsthand following an incident of abuse. Over time, concern for the victim diminishes and the primary focus turns to the plight of the perpetrator, the consequences he must suffer now, and how we can help him. At the same time, the victim is increasingly pushed aside and even accused of causing all of this unpleasantness. In Christian settings, the victim is accused of being unforgiving and of refusing to obey Scripture’s commands to reconcile. The victim becomes a leper and often is ultimately driven outside the camp. It is horrible injustice.
Here is a very recent note sent to us at our blog from a victim who sought help from her church — a very large church with a history of a celebrity level pastor (who writes books about how God forbids divorce for any reason at all ever):
. . . it makes me very angry. It’s been over a decade, and yet just thinking about how that church handled my abuser makes my heart pound. He nearly killed me…. I was in the hospital for weeks. And yet, that church? They blamed me.
Why do we Tend Toward Cover up?
Once again, if you read the news, you already know how common it is for people and organizations: the church, pastors, workplaces, schools, etc to persist in denial about abuse in their midst. In fact, if an abuse victim ever comes to you for help, or if you see an abuser let his guard down for a moment and you get a glimpse through his disguise, your first tendency is going to be to squelch any notion that what you are hearing or seeing is true. Many pastors and churches actually have covered up criminal abuse — even criminal abuse of children — failing to report it to the police as the law requires. Why?
- We are all infected with willful blindness to the unpleasant
- Fear — we are afraid of the implications of this evil being true
- Reputation and image
- Arrogance — “I can handle this.”
- Not wanting to pay the price that accompanies standing with the victim
- The abuser is our friend or at least we think we know him and that he is just not such a person
- Fear of the criminal justice system. We believe we can “save” the abuser ourselves.
What are some of the deceitful, secret, cloaked tactics that abusers very typically use? The consistency is quite remarkable. When we write about these weapons in the abuser’s arsenal we often have readers contact us and say “Wow! That abuser you describe operates and thinks the very same way my abuser does. What in the world? Do these guys all go to the same school?” And in fact, the answer is “yes.” As Jesus told the Pharisees, they were of their father the devil. Satan trains his agents.
Some Typical Abuser Tactics:
- Wearing the mask / disguise / façade
- Never, ever wrong
- Guilting the victim
- Shaming the victim
- A characteristic: watch for an absence of empathy
- Re-writing history
- Crazy-making (gaslighting) – works to convince others the victim is mentally ill
- Isolation (physical, financial)
- Working to gain allies from friends and family
- Sexual abuse
- Alienation of the children
- Sabotaging the victim’s successes
- Withholding care (protection, medical)
- Aggressive and frightening driving
- Physical assault
- Using Bible verses, twisted and out of context, to give the abuse divine sanction
Conclusion — What Can You Do?
Read. Learn. Get your eyes opened to the mentality and nature of this evil and acknowledge the devastating effects it has upon victims. Go to the resources page of our blog at cryingoutforjustice.com and start reading those books. With each one you read, the wiser you will become. Read our books. Read Lundy Bancroft. Read George Simon. Read Judith Herman’s book on trauma. And keep reading. By the way, you will derive personal benefit. You will become less vulnerable to being abused yourself by some narcissist/sociopath. And, you know what else will happen? You will start to find that you can understand your Bible better. Try it and see.
The following is from a blog article recently written by Barbara Roberts about how to help a victim who might confide in you, and how not to be taken in by the abuser:
- If a friend or member of your congregation tells you of the abusive relationship she is enduring, one of the most validating things you can do is to believe her. The validation of being believed empowers the victim and may help her to understand even more clearly the abusive relationship she is in — especially if the abuser tries to convince her he has changed.
- However, as a supporter it is important to understand that you are at risk of being recruited by the abuser — to become his ally. If the abuser knows you, and especially if he has an inkling that you are supporting his victim, the abuser will see your support of his target as a great danger to him. Why? Because the abuser knows that it is easier for him to maintain power and control over his target if the target is isolated and bereft of people she can trust and confide in. He sees your friendship with his target as a potential lifeline for her (which it is), and he doesn’t want her to have any lifelines: he wants to keep her stuck, bound and numbed on his spider web.
- The abuser will want to stop you from supporting his wife and he will use various tactics to try to achieve this. One of the skills of being a support person for victims of domestic abuse is to be able to recognize and resist the tactics that the abuser uses to try to recruit you as his ally. Even if he cannot win you over to be his full ally, he will be content to get you to adopt a ‘neutral’ stance. It’s important for you to understand that in domestic abuse, neutrality is NOT neutral.
- In reality, to remain [or to become] neutral is to collude with the abusive man, whether or not that is your goal. If you are aware of chronic or severe maltreatment and do not speak out against it, your silence communicates implicitly that you see nothing unacceptable taking place. Abusers interpret silence as approval, or at least as forgiveness. To abused women, meanwhile, the silence means that no-one will help [i.e. she will stay isolated] — just what her partner wants her to believe. Anyone who chooses to quietly look the other way therefore unwittingly becomes the abuser’s ally.
- Another of the abuser’s tactics is that he will try to convince you that he is changing/has changed. Here is what we know from much long experience and from the accounts of many survivors, as well as from professionals like Lundy Bancroft and George Simon and others who work in the field of domestic abuse:
- For an abuser to truly change takes a LOT of work on his part and it is a very long process that needs to continue for the rest of his life.
- An abuser cannot change unless he deals deeply with his entitled and superior attitudes. No superficial changes that he may make offer any real hope for the future.
- It makes no difference how NICE he is being, since almost all abusers have nice periods. What matters is how RESPECTFUL and NONCOERCIVE he chooses to become.
- Shallow and phony repentance is the abuser’s stock in trade. It is part of his manipulative arsenal.
- Lundy Bancroft has had a lot of experience of working with abusers who look like they are starting to change — and then backslide. When asked why, the abuser typically reveals that in some way his privileges were slipping.
That is this evil we call abuse. As I say as often as I can, if you want to be wise, you must be wise about evil. And if you want to learn about the essence and tactics of evil, study the abuser. Learn about his mentality, about his tactics, and about the body and soul-killing effects his evil has upon victims. And then go and be a leader in exposing wickedness and defending the oppressed.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.