How Abusers Use (Mis-use) Matthew 18 to Escape Church Discipline. Evidence is not just eyewitness testimony.
One thing that abusers in the church are very good at is using Matthew 18 to continue their abuse. Many of them never do anything abusive in front of two or three witnesses. Abusers are rarely stupid enough to leave two or three witnesses. They always know what to say and who to say it to so their secret sins are not outed. And the abuser knows that if the victim tells others about the abuse, the abuser can accuse the victim of slander and gossip, and many in the church will go along with that gossip & slander accusation.
No doubt many of you have seen this tactic used against you. In fact, when an abuse victim reports the abuse and the two or three witnesses are not to be found, it is the victim who ends up charged. “You are gossiping/slandering/maligning. You should not be saying any of these things if you cannot prove them with witnesses.” And there are almost never ever witnesses in the flesh, other than the victim. Thus, the wicked one skates.
Matthew 18 is not the only Scripture addressing church discipline.
There are a lot of scriptures which touch on church discipline, and Matthew 18 is only one. Furthermore, Matthew 18 has often been misunderstood and misused to give injustice to victims (see ‘related posts’ below). What’s more, Matthew 18 is not generally the most appropriate Scripture to be applied in the case of abuse. A much better Scripture to go to is 1 Corinthians 5.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
… I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 11-13 ESV, emphasis added)
Abusers rarely work their evil spells of abuse in public. At least not in ways the uninformed would notice. They put on the fine, pious, “christian” facade in front of an audience and save their raging / viciousness / silent treatment for later at home or in the car. For example, they may generously put money in the offering and volunteer at church in lots of ways, but at home refuse to give their wife access to adequate grocery money, or they punish her when she can’t produce receipts for every cent spent. Abuse is a secret sin, you see. It is a dark evil performed in a corner. Two or three witnesses? Yeah, right.
If the victim reports some abusive conduct, the abuser counters with: “You don’t know that! You can’t prove that! So you need to just stop saying such things!” And church members often take the same line: “You shouldn’t slander your husband. You shouldn’t gossip about your husband. ”
Church leaders who are untrained in abuse and have been snowed by the abuser invariably intensify the abuse when they deny the victim justice by citing Matthew 18 as if it were the only passage in the Bible that speaks to church discipline. And abusers love it so.
When looking for evidence, we don’t have to limit ourselves to eyewitness testimony
If this ‘two or three [eye]witnesses’ business were applied in the realm of the criminal justice system, how many criminals would never be found guilty? Many! But the fact is, legal codes allow for other kinds of witnesses than eye-witnesses. We allow all kinds of forensic evidence into trials. Fingerprints. Printed documents. Emails. Firearm ballistics. DNA analysis. We even permit certain kinds of “circumstantial” evidence. All of these things are witnesses, and they are admissible in a criminal court.
And that’s just talking about crimes: things prohibited by the criminal code.
Hundreds of tactics used by domestic abusers do not come under the criminal code. Emotional abuse. Verbal abuse. Gaslighting and mind games. Financial abuse. Social abuse— the isolation of the victim. The whole pattern of coercive control: the abuser’s covert aggression, manipulation, and micro-management of the victim’s life. The way the abuser seeks out and tries to destroy the victim’s ‘safety zones’ — those small areas of her life where her confidence and competence is affirmed, the places where she can occasionally sip a few drops of happiness or peace.*
The burden of proof for things that are not crimes, is lower than the burden of proof for crimes.
In the secular justice system, there are two streams: the criminal and the civil. Criminal courts are different from civil courts. How does the burden of proof differ between criminal and civil courts? In a criminal court, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged crime was committed. But in a civil court, you don’t have to prove it beyond reasonable doubt: civil courts make rulings and decisions on the balance of probabilities. In the United States this concept is called a preponderance of the evidence, which simply, you might say, fifty-one percent so that the scales tip to that side of the evidence scale. Many people who haven’t been involved in courts don’t realise that the civil side of the justice system, the burden of proof is lower. And the Family Court system is part of the civil system not the criminal system (certainly this is true in Australia, Barb is not sure about other countries).
Church bodies are NOT able to investigate, judge or convict on criminal matters. Church officials are not trained to investigate crimes. That’s one reason why so many churches have made a mess of things when they’ve tried to investigate allegations of child abuse in the church. The New Testament makes it clear that the State, not the church, bears the power of the sword to punish criminals (Romans 13).
However, the Bible does talk about churches making judgements about whether or not to treat a so-called believer as a Christian. That’s part of what we call ‘biblical discipline’.
Anyone who is trained and experienced in the nature and tactics of non-criminal domestic abuse will be able to recognize a range of “witnesses” to the abuse that confirm the victim’s testimony. And if they are assessing on the balance of probabilities, it means that if the preponderance of evidence points to the victim’s claims being true, then the church can—and should—discipline abusers. And since all domestic abusers are revilers (verbal abusers) this means putting them out of the church and treating them as unbelievers. Handing them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh as it says in 1 Corinthians 5.
If only more Christian leaders were wise and able to discern the tactics and language of abusers! And recognise and resist their dissembling!
We believe that when a church body makes out that it cannot discipline an abuser because there is not enough evidence, then that church body is quite probably being arrogant and misusing or misunderstanding Scripture.
Church bodies often ignore all the non-criminal evidence which the victim brings.
Here are some examples of the kinds of evidence that a victim may bring. The fact that she is not permitted to spend a dime of her own volition. The characteristic nature of the psychological abuse she reports. Indicators in the children’s behavior. (Speaking of children, how many pedophiles work their putrid evil on children in front of witnesses?). The mere fact that after years of marriage she is now only hesitatingly, coming forward to ask for help. Her own confusion about whether she is to blame. Financial records showing the husband’s credit card payments (e.g. to porn sites). Computer and phone records which demonstrate the abuser’s pattern of sinful conduct. The report of a member of the church who saw the husband’s face beet red and his fists clenched once in the corridor of the church. The observation of a member of the church who has witnessed the husband speaking sarcastically to his wife, or belittling her, or smirking inappropriately. All these things point to the disordered character of the abuser — his pattern of entitlement and his hardened heart.
The trained eye and ear can spot these typical signs and symptoms, and these signs and symptoms serve as valid witnesses to the abuse. Yet churches so very often, in ignorance and arrogance — or in plain alliance with the abuser — completely dismiss all of this affirming evidence. Result? The guilty are pronounced righteous and the righteous are condemned.
“If you can’t prove it with at least two and better three flesh and blood eye-witnesses, then keep your mouth shut and stop slandering this fine Christian man.” There it is. That is what so many victims are told. This is a perversion of the Scriptures. It is at best the mark of rank ignorance and often more likely a sign that the victim is talking to a member of their abuser’s evil brotherhood of abusers. It is the thing that protects the most vile evildoers who have crept in among us. We must be done with this cover up business. We announce that this “get out of jail free card” of twisting Matthew 18 just isn’t going to fly with us anymore.
* * *
*In most parts of the world, coercive control tactics such as cyber-stalking, harassment by SMS and email, covert aggression and emotional / verbal abuse are never defined as criminal. However, in Australia and ? some other places that have relatively advanced DV laws, coercive control tactics are prohibited in Protection Orders, so when the abuser breaches a Protection Order that has been made against him, he commits a criminal offence. However, it’s not easy to prosecute and convict if there isn’t enough evidence to render it beyond reasonable doubt. . . because that’s the high bar of proof required under criminal law. Catch 22…
God’s Rules of Evidence are Often Misapplied, to the Harm of Abuse Victims
The Matthew 18 process — is it just the province of the church elders?
Church discipline and church permission for divorce – how my mind has changed
When Matthew 18 Breaks Down — by Persistent Widow, one of our readers
How would John the Baptist deal with an abuser in the church?
An Abuser is Called a “Reviler” in Scripture, And the Reviler is no Christian
On Abusing Matthew 18, by D A Carson (Scroll down to the third page of the journal.)
UPDATE Sept 2021: Barbara Roberts has 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.
So True! We were accused of saying our daughter’s friend (a girl) was just weird, and we were not “professionals” to say that she was an abusive friend / roommate. The pastor and his wife told us to let them know if there is a “threat” or “physical violence”. I am coming to know that physical violence would almost be easier than the psychological damage that has affected us all.
Of course, she [the abuser] behaves to the crowds (church). My older daughter, roommates, got thrown at her Matthew 18 when her and the other roomie decided the abusive roommate needed to be asked to leave, from living with them. My daughter and friend are still very active and in leadership in the church, we left months ago.
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Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog [Internet Archive link].
well, well, well now, this is the very scripture my ex used against me repeatedly. Thank you so much for this article. Its been a year and a half since I left his house and I still am questioning whether what I went through really happened or did I imagine things. Every time I read your posts it reminds me of the reality of what actually happened and why I am still picking up the pieces of my shattered heart, mind, body and soul. No one that interacts with him would ever believe what happened behind closed doors. If I question it, of course others would. My sanity through it all has been your ministry here, I praise God for all of you…
Another variation of this is that “this is a private, family matter” so any of the parties discussing it is “gossip”. No witnesses so it is out of bounds. I have seen this used by a pastor to prevent a fellow congregant receiving support from a small group I was in. This did not end well.
Yes, yes, yes. Something so similar was told to me by my pastor. Basically he said that a wife SHOULD NOT discuss matters about her husband, especially concerning lustfulness, abuse, etc. as this would be dishonoring to the husband (the pastor did add that it would be okay if the wife got the husbands permission).
What land do these pastors live in?
No wonder the unsaved steer away from churches!
I’m learning this is part of the standard abuser’s playbook. My abusive ex-boss and his allies were forever trying to convince me that it was unprofessional and defamatory to go home and talk with my own family about how I was being treated. One of his staunchest allies was constantly saying things to me like, “Just like in a family, what happens at work should stay within the work environment. And you’re being so unfair telling one-sided stories without giving us a chance to tell our side!” They had a slight acquaintance with my family, and worried that my telling the truth was damaging their relationships! It doesn’t matter that the boss’s side was a combination of minimization, justification, sin-leveling, and outright lies about things I can literally prove I hadn’t done.
The saddest part to me is it really didn’t. Boss and his crony managed to pull the charm out enough that my family believes, despite my having never lied to them about anything growing up, and despite how open I am to compromise, that somehow I’m prone to exaggeration and slander when I’m thwarted from getting my own way. The only relationship damaged by the abuse I suffered in that workplace were mine. Now I know I can’t trust my parents in anything significant, and try to limit my contact with them as a result, while I know they still attend holiday parties with the ex-boss. My father pressured me this year to attend one of their get togethers, because since ex-boss can’t treat me like that anymore, any rift between us now must be my fault.
boy I love your screen name, tranquilskunk! you must have a great sense of humour!
Totally off topic, I hope that is ok. With family for holiday. Struggling with explaining this is not a mutual thing. They want to understand but confused because soon to be ex is always so nice around them. They never see the bad stuff, it’s hard to even believe the bad stuff happens. I know have seen many articles on these things but can’t find today. Is there a good post about explaining things to family. If I hear this is always a mutual thing or that I need to look at myself again I’m going to scream. So frustrating they just don’t get it. I don’t know how to explain without telling the ugly details that I’m not read to discuss openly. Thanks
Hi Scared momma
I don’t think we have a post about ‘explaining things to your family’ as such. But on my other site (notunderbondage.com) I have an article called Unhelpful Comments by Well Meaning People — a coaching clinic [The URL has been changed to reflect it’s new location on ACFJ. Editors.]
And don’t be afraid to become a ‘stuck record’ — by just repeating simple statements over and over again.
Here are some sentences you might like to use:
It is not a mutual thing.
He chooses to mistreat me.
I am not doing anything to cause or provoke him.
No matter how I alter my behaviour, he still abuses me.
He wears a mask when he’s with you.
You don’t know what he does to me in private.
Please believe me! It hurts when you don’t believe me.
Until you show more kindness towards me and less suspicion of me, I won’t feel safe disclosing to you the details of how he mistreats me. You need to respect my liberty in telling you what I want to tell you.
I am not lying. I’m telling you the truth.
I’ve gathered a bunch of other posts which might be helpful:
Trying to Escape When You Can’t Explain – by Katy
How a Pastor and His Wife’s Eyes Were Opened to Abuse: A Letter to Pastors (You might want to ask your family to read this post.)
Helping an Abuse Victim without being Duped by the Abuser (This would be a good one for your family to read too, and it has a lot of links at the end to other resources that could help them understand more.)
The Chameleon Nature of Evil or, “Where’s Waldo?”
Leaving Abuse: What a Victim Can Expect
Why Won’t They Believe Me?
They Do It in Secret
Scared Monma; I can completely understand where you are at. It is easy for me to stay firm in my decision to end the relationship of twenty-five years when I can stay grounded with sites like this and reading scripture. But I flounder when people attempt to put some of the blame or responsibility back onto me, it is a hard battle to overcome the years of brainwashing that it is a delicate place, easy for me to question or doubt myself when others start the ball rolling. Most of the time I avoid being around people who pry beyond what I am comfortable with, who make excuses or tell me what a great guy he is, or attempt to blame me or put responsibility on me. In trying to shake the years of being told that by my abuser, marriage counselor, pastors, and Christian authors … I just need to stay away.
Sometimes, a person cannot entirely get away from it. Something I have done is printed out some websites and specific articles onto business cards. Now if I can’t avoid the questioning from others, I just hand them a business card and say, “It is a very difficult thing to talk about with someone who’s never experienced something like this. If you want to know the truth you are welcome to read these articles. Then, if you care to understand what I’ve gone through, I might be willing to talk about it.” Then I say no more. If they won’t drop it, I excuse myself.
Last week I was at a neighbour’s home, didn’t have any cards with me, and she said, “Marriage is a 50 / 50 thing, it takes two.” At first I was flustered, but then I caught myself and responded, “Yes, it is. And since I was the only one truly willing to contribute to the values of a marriage (such as honesty, teamwork, personal responsibility, and compromise) there really was no marriage long before we separated. Unfortunately he claimed he wanted to contribute to those things, but continued to act in opposition to them.” And I said no more. I rarely use the word “abuse” as that offends most people, and I almost never give specifics to those who don’t get it.
I am tired of being treated like I’m being too bitter or judgmental, or treated like I’m the one who’s in the wrong, either it’s completely rejected, excuses are made for the abuser, or if they at least accept it then I’m questioned as to why I “allowed” it to happen, etc. It’s too much to take, so I either avoid it, or respond in the quickest way possible. (I’ve also found that if people keep commenting in ways that start to bring back my old doubts or the thoughts of unjust guilt / shame I start to either recite The Lord’s Prayer or sing Amazing Grace in my head – this helps me a lot in this situation, it also helps when I do need to communicate with the abuser, or just trying to fall asleep at night).
Surviving Freedom, I can relate so much to what you have experienced.
You can tell quite quickly if people get it.
I have lost most of my friends. My sanity is the most important thing, staying away from abuse makes me stronger. Relying on God’s promises and not the people who claim to be Christians.
This week has been difficult.
Received a text message from a “friend” from my ex church. She said she was “praying for hearts to unite.”
I have blocked her on my phone because this kind of comment is so damaging to my healing.
A woman who hardly knows us gave us gift cards to a grocery store and gas station tonight. That is showing the love of Jesus.
My husband was convicted of physical violence toward me and did time, but the elders said that since he didn’t do anything bad in church they could not remove him. This must have been what they were trying to say to me “where are your witnesses?” They didn’t take the court’s word for it, they were above the law apparently.
Outrageous behavior by those elders!
especially since these were my peers, I worked in leadership as well. It’s like they were mad at me for reporting the abuse, and felt sorry for my ex. Now I feel sorry for their wives
“He didn’t do bad in church”… Aren’t individuals and families THE church [Ekklesia = assembly, the body of Christ]? These elders don’t even know their Bible when they believe what happens in a religious building is the ‘church’!
What about when the abuser turns Matthew 18 around and applies it to the victim? This is what my H did to me by manipulating a church leader, making him believe how noble his intention was to thus initiate a process of reconciliation and implying I was the faulty one. Of course I was not approached beforehand and it was all landed on me one day.
Alleluiah, God turned it around also and this cunning tactic came to a dead end.
Yes, we’ve heard that kind of thing from many victims of abuse.
The abuser claims to want to reconcile which makes him ‘the goodie’ under Matthew 18 because the church fails to identify him as a real abuser. The victim digs in her heels in this ghastly ‘reconciliation’ process because from where she sits there is no solid evidence that the abuser has repented or reformed. She’s then accused of being ‘the baddie’ because she is reluctant to reconcile and unwilling to comply with this diabolical inversion of the Matthew 18 process because she knows she is being disbelieved by the church.
It’s a ghastly counterfeit of what Matthew 18 is supposed to be all about. Evil is called good. Good is called evil. And the abuser skates while the abused is either excommunicated for ‘contumacy to the elders’ or she just withdraws from the church because she’s been shunned.
Barbara…..you have nailed the truth here. And if you haven’t experienced it for yourself, you will easily believe such injustice could never happen among people who ‘profess’ to bring to Christ. God on the only throne that really matters is what keeps me going on. Without that, I would be completely undone.
Wishing you all a joyous and peaceful Christmas. I’m so thankful for your labor and tireless passion for speaking truth and shining light into some very dark places in the church. May God continue to bless you, strengthen you, and give you courage!!
just reading your understanding of what went down makes me shudder… yes that is exactly what happens. Ex wanted to call a meeting in front of the elders (yes the same ones I described above) of the church to get this ironed out. I knew it would be a blood bath for me. I was so glad I had already decided to leave this church.
blood bath — what an excellent word!
…or she leaves as I will do soon if someone does not get a good dose of reality. My abusive husband nearly killed me, broke my bones, blackened my eyes, pulled out my hair, verbally intimidated me…but the moment he CLAIMED to be sorry and CLAIMED he had changed then everyone wants to talk of reconciliation and guilt me into it. He MUST be truly sorry just because HE SAYS SO. He is not. He will not be. He will not change.
They would rather live in the fellowship of the unwilling and the uncomfortable than deal with the real issue. Only a small percentage of abusers ever change, but better to tell the poor victim to get back in the cage with the ravening wolf and just deal with it, than protect the victim and hold the abuser to account. That just makes people feel icky and we can’t have that. Many people were more uncomfortable with me speaking about the abuse than I actually was living through it!
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I really like what you said about the willfully blind church: “They would rather live in the fellowship of the unwilling and the uncomfortable than deal with the real issue.” What a great turn of phrase. Thanks Rachel!
“A diabolical inversion of the Matthew 18 process!”, that’s exactly it Barb! The arrogant leader wasted my time with his pompous ‘spiritual’ teaching about marriage and wouldn’t admit he wasn’t educated about DV when I kindly confronted him later. To protect myself I ended up leaving this church where I had taken ‘refuge’ away from the AH. I just cannot believe the vast and shameful ignorance among the leadership about abuse and discipline. And I have never ever heard about 1 Corinthians 5 from the lips of preachers. I’m not attending any church and have found true biblical teaching on abuse and solace here at ACFJ.
I learn so much from these amazing blogs and then from what readers share. The sharing of experience is then like icing on a delicious cake. This is a place where joy is being restored as a healing balm of truth is applied to broken places. Only God could make it so.
I’ve been reading about leaven and salt lately pondering the difference since both are used in the baking of bread. Leaven of Pharisees is that legalistic bondage abused women hear constantly “forgive, forget, it takes two, follow the rules, bake more cookies, be a “total woman”. Rules, laws, spirit breaking soul crushing trite expectations that Pharisees love to throw on the broken hearted. Those words cost a Pharisee nothing but they cost the victim everything. It is yeast, that spiritually corrosive substance that is based on performance and not grace. It is no wonder there is no grace for a victim in their words and churches.
Jesus said “beware of it” He repeated that over and over. As soon as I get that shamed feeling in my gut, I am learning to shut those shaming voices out. The Spirit convicts me gently, lovingly and with compassion that is different than the voice of shame because Jesus has a remedy when I repent for wrongdoing.
The devil came to Jesus after his 40 day fast with temptations using the Word. He quoted it, but with a slight twist, and Jesus responded back with the Word infused with the Spirit, The power behind Jesus’ use of the Word was His intimacy with his Father. He did after all just spend 40 days fasting and praying, He was well armed.
Salt can kill yeast. Jesus said we are salt. We moderate and limit the expression of yeast by our very presence. If we leave those places being overrun with the yeast of legalism, that is a witness too. Don’t underestimate the power of being salt. This place, where truth is spoken, is salt; questioning is salt; leaving is salt. Resisting those yeast ridden Pharisaical bondage makers is the work of salt to keep the whole church from being completely infested with this particularly sickening yeast.
This post of ours has been featured on the Aquila Report’s Facebook page.
Here is the link Facebook: The Aquila Report (post 948174585231070)
There is a comment in the thread there by Paul Dorr, which I strongly encourage you all to read.
Paul Dorr gives an account of a DV victim who secretly recorded the words her elders spoke to her, when she was seeking their support and help. The elders took the abuser’s side. She was able to record their conversations with her without their knowledge, because that was legal in the State she lived in. She eventually presented all the CDs of the recordings to Synod (a high level body in her denomination) and the elders sat there shamefaced.
Please click the link I gave to read the whole account.
My understanding of Matthew 18 about taking 1 or 2 others along with you does not refer to people who actually witnessed the sinful behavior. Of course that would make it virtually impossible to fulfill. The Lord Jesus is saying that the 2 will be witnesses of the confrontation between the two parties. The purpose for this is mainly so that the additional presence of others would result in the person not making excuses or denying the sin but repenting of it. It shows him or her the seriousness of sin and the care of others for their soul.
Thanks for your comment Jan. I agree with your first paragraph.
You will notice that I removed the second paragraph in your comment before publishing it. I did that because on this blog we try not to publish things that might trigger victims / survivors. In your second paragraph you had stated what you thought many of the commenters here need to keep in mind. That kind of statement can easily trigger victims of abuse, because they have been so often told by their abusers (and by the church) what they “need” to think, what they “need” to do, how they “ought” to behave and feel, etc. This kind of ‘telling victims what to do’ is quite offensive to many victims. It can come across as patronising: as if you are the expert and the victim is deficient in some way because she (you think) lacks understanding. Not to mention how much it reminds the victim of how her abuser belittled her and disrespected and discounted her point or view.
We encourage commenters who want to give advice to other readers to put in more invitational, less dictatorial, phraseology.
I would like to encourage you to…
May I suggest that you …
Maybe you would like to consider ….
Perhaps it might help if…
I hope you continue to read the blog and to comment here. 🙂 You might like to check out our New Users Info page. Among other things, it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.
It is INCREDIBLE that so many in the church think that I Cor 5:1-5, and similar verses warning to stay away from evil men EXCLUDES wives!!
Churches don’t care. They are more anxious not to “judge” the abuser than to help the victim. They allow the abuser to continue to go to the same church as the victim- because “he has not done anything recently” so he must be changed just because HE SAYS he is, despite the fact that the abuser has a long history of physical and verbal abuse and intimidation through several marriages.
If the abuser and the abused are no longer together then of course the abuser has not done anything simply because of lack of proximity and opportunity and not any supposed remorse. Claiming they have repented and showing false remorse are a get out of jail free card. Shame, shame, shame. They re-traumatise the victim all over again and demonstrate the very same invalidation, gaslighting, shifting the narrative and victim blaming that the abused person had to endure in the abusive relationship. They are not shepherds. They would rather rehabilitate wolves than feed sheep…or maybe feed the sheep TO the wolf.
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Yes! Well said Rachel! Thanks for your comment. 🙂 And welcome to the blog. If you haven’t already done so, you might like to check out our FAQ page.