A Formula for Abuse Taught in Many Churches (in this case, it was an SGM church)

The following is from one of our ACFJ readers. She has given us permission to use her excellent insights here. Many thanks to her. Read and grow wiser. Many of you will fully identify with what she says.

Note: This woman’s experience took place in a church that was part of SGM (Sovereign Grace Ministries). SGM and their erstwhile leader, CJ Mahaney, have become infamous for their coverup of child sexual abuse and blaming of victims and whistleblowers.

We need to state an important point: Although the SGM denomination professes to be following the historic, classic Reformed Theology (a theology which Jeff C and Barb hold to) SGM must have seriously distorted classical Reformed Theology in order to teach what they are laying on people today. Now, over to our reader —

My husband and I have been married for nearly a decade, and I think both of us would say each year has been burdensome. We met and got married in a Reformed church, where we built our entire foundation for marriage, including what we were taught were the biblical roles of husband and wife. We attended small groups, Bible studies, and pastoral counseling and learned that goal of marriage was holiness, not happiness. The husband’s role is the leader of the household, spiritually and physically. The wife’s role is a support role for the husband’s success. A noble and godly function for the wife is to trust God with her womb and bear as many children as He sees fit, and to teach them at home, training them academically, and in the Christian worldview. Spank them to drive the foolishness out of their sinful hearts since they are unregenerate sinners from birth. Your aim is not mere behavior modification, it is for their hearts (which are somehow connected to their butts). Children must submit to authority of parents, just as wives submit to authority of husbands. Being a wife and mother is a high and noble calling for a woman that should be embraced.

We were taught never to indulge anger because it is a sin of the flesh; feelings are never to be trusted or validated as true; always forgive no matter the offense because we are all sinners, and our Father in heaven won’t forgive us unless we forgive others; all negative talk about others is gossip, and the worst, most shameful kind of gossip is against your husband. The enemy Satan wants to destroy the fellowship of believers by causing division in the church, and especially in marriages. They drilled into us to follow Matthew 18’s instructions for addressing a sinning brother; however, always evaluate your motive and “remove your own plank” before daring to confront anyone else’s sin. Confronting sin was also a high and noble task, and was only to be accomplished by those who were spiritually mature enough not to have any sins of their own impeding their judgement.

Our church was part of Sovereign Grace Ministries, where CJ Mahaney was founder and beloved by all as a type of holy “rock star.” It was announced that his integrity as a pastor was being investigated, and that there had been a cover up of a sex scandal at his church. There were people writing blogs and websites, one of which was CJ’s close friend, who rebuked CJ’s sin. Our pastors defended CJ and warned us against our own investigations. “Don’t read the blogs and websites”, they said. “It is gossip”, they told us. “We who are in authority will keep you up to speed with anything that affects our church. This has nothing to do with us [you]”, they said.

And there you have it, crystal clear. Perfect description. A sure formula for terror. This is not biblical religion. It is the religion of the Pharisees or worse. It is bondage. It turns marriage into bondage. It destroys. It oppresses the weak (though the abuse victims I know are the most incredibly strong people within themselves). It puts a huge stumbling block in front of children, hindering them from coming to Christ. It makes a mockery of Christ and His Church in the eyes of the world. It is a design for an abuse factory.

Are there snippets of truth in all this? Yes. Children are to respect and obey their parents. Being a wife and mother is a noble calling. But as is true with all of Satan’s lies, this thread of truth is woven into an entire tapestry of deception and falsehood. I have no doubt that this kind of teaching, this system that parades as biblical Christianity, is very capable of taking an otherwise good man and making him be abusive to his wife and children. I do not believe anything can make a person a true abuser, so let’s not give abusers an excuse here, i.e., “my church made me what I am.” But I have no doubt that a good man who is a genuine Christian and zealously desires to serve God can certainly be pressured and deceived (for a time) into being abusive toward his wife. In fact, all he needs to do is follow the formula our reader describes here and he will necessarily act abusively to his wife. And his wife will necessarily subject herself to that abuse and think that she is being godly in doing so.

What to do? If you are in a church that fits the description she has given us here, run! This is not Christ nor the freedom He calls us to.

[November 28, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to November 28, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to November 28, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to November 28, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (November 28, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


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.


17 thoughts on “A Formula for Abuse Taught in Many Churches (in this case, it was an SGM church)”

  1. Yes!!! Well said. This explains why my old church was so damaging to me. They never helped me know God, the truth about marriage, divorce, evil, legalism, etc. I was a starving sheep and I was abused by an evil man. It’s teachings like these that take the freedom a born again believer would have and snuffs it out. Grrrrrr! Thank you for posting this!

  2. I have no doubt that this kind of teaching, this system that parades as biblical Christianity, is very capable of taking an otherwise good man and making him be abusive to his wife and children. I do not believe anything can make a person a true abuser, so let’s not give abusers an excuse here, i.e., “my church made me what I am.” But I have no doubt that a good man who is a genuine Christian and zealously desires to serve God can certainly be pressured and deceived (for a time) into being abusive toward his wife. In fact, all he needs to do is follow the formula our reader describes here and he will necessarily act abusively to his wife. And his wife will necessarily subject herself to that abuse and think that she is being godly in doing so.

    So true! My husband and I began our marriage as friends who respected each other. We both longed to follow God. We grew up in the church and attended maybe four churches as a married couple. The churches each taught us that the husband was the “leader” and the wife was to “submit to his authority.” Each of the churches taught this on different levels, some allowing women to teach a SS class that included men, one church was so oppressive that women couldn’t speak from the pulpit and any lessons they taught (only to other women) had to be first approved by the pastor.

    This teaching almost destroyed our marriage as my husband began to see any difference of opinion as “undermining his authority”. I struggled to submit but underneath my spirit was withering and I felt like a voiceless victim. My husband would ask for my opinion, but if it didn’t agree with his, I was “undermining his authority”. Our relationship got to the point where we couldn’t really communicate with each other. Fortunately, we both really loved God and each other, so we abandoned the church teaching and stopped focusing on who had (or didn’t have) authority, power, and control. We began, again, to treat each other as equal partners. We began to respect and value our different perspectives, to allow each other the freedom to voice our different opinions. We began to BOTH use our strengths to help the other. We became best friends again and our marriage recovered and strengthened.

    The “submission” teaching wrongly puts the focus on power and control. It turns the husband into a miser jealously guarding his “authority”. And it severs connection to the wife, who becomes a “Stepford wife” who must do everything to please her husband. True Biblical love doesn’t focus on control, power, or authority. It doesn’t “lord it over” others or see power as something to be grasped.

  3. I whole-heartedly agree with your warning about this type of teaching. In my situation, I found the ‘church’ leadership & my controlling, manipulative husband have the same mind-set. The same agenda: power & control. Therefore, they understand each other. They don’t see anything wrong with their thinking.

    These types of ‘church’ leaders lay heavy, heavy burdens on already worn & weary shoulders. Hurting people turning to them (because we’re told, they know better, they’re more spiritual & Biblically wiser), are being hurt further. I absolutely hate it.

    In my former ‘church’, we were taught to follow a legalistic formula to get desired, godly results. We weren’t taught to trust our feelings (“the heart is deceitfully wicked”, you know). We weren’t taught to trust the Holy Spirit for guidance. The ‘church’ leaders thought they were the congregation’s Holy Spirit. We were encouraged to put the leadership on a pedestal. I think I’ve read somewhere before that’s called idolatry. They promoted idolatry on so many different levels, yet everyone else had it all wrong. No one could compare to their spiritual giftedness, their holiness abounded all.

    Praying God will make these organizations misguiding His people to fail & fold!!! Praying for God to rescue His people & give them eyes to see & ears to hear His truth above what men are teaching.

    1. Are you sure we didn’t go to the same church? Lol. Its crazy how common this kind of ‘theology’ is because I was taught the same thing. At church and in Bible School. Our Bible College tried to get all of the students engaged and married off by Senior year. They would have small talks in class about a woman’s role and how Christians are to be married. And how marriage would suck from day one but it wasn’t about us being happy it was about us being holy and that marriage was God’s way of making people holier. If we desired singleness it was wrong and we must be desiring it because we are selfish. Marriage would fix our selfishness so we were taught to get married quickly!

      It’s so sad….I hope that God pulls the string that will unravel their tapestry of lies.

    2. I did not know how toxic this teaching was until after I had children and couldn’t sit in the sermons all the time. I started seeing and hearing weird stuff, and people only interested in talking about sin – their sin, their children’s sin, original sin, how we’re always sinning, every little thing is a sin, getting a tan is a sin, drinking too much “Mountain Dew” is a spiritual problem, etc. Someone said even our good actions were motivated by sinful pride. But my Bible says that God changes us. So surely some of the time we are actually doing things to please God. Even spending time with other couples outside of church, all anyone focused on was sin. It got to where we couldn’t even have a normal conversation without someone attributing everything to sin. Did Jesus die or not? Did He not set us free?

      I’m not as abused by my husband as I am by the church. I think if my husband would stop going to that church he would go back to normal. When I first started realizing what was wrong with it, I shared it with him and strongly. He was offended that I would say such things and said that I was going to start something with the church sooner or later. I am holding to my convictions and not going to let them run my life. I think that they are filling his mind with lies.

  4. Crazy how these Christian leaders become so obsessed with teaching their ideas of “Biblical manhood and womanhood roles” while completely ignoring what the Bible actually says. That’s just their personal opinion and nothing more.

    The real goal of every believer is to become LIKE Christ. BOTH men and women “beholding the glory of the Lord are changed into that same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18).

  5. This is my story, too, for the most part. The only difference was that I believed that natural family planning was okay. I was brought up to believe that negative emotions were sinful natural responses. Sadness, fear, anger and jealousy were not okay. I was taught that being a good husband meant sacrificing my desires for the good of my wife and the family, because my desires were naturally selfish. We were taught that our child’s obedience is of the utmost importance. If our child doesn’t obey us, how will she obey God? We were taught that desiring a good relationship with our child at the expense of our child’s obedience was putting our child in the place of God.

    Thankfully, we had a series of awakenings. The first awakening I had was when my child naturally recoiled when I reached out towards her. That’s because most of the time I reached out in discipline. After that, I awoke to feeling trapped in my own marriage. My emotions were sitting in a box somewhere, and they didn’t like that. I started fantasizing about running away from everything and starting a new life. I awoke to the need to protect my wife and children from an abusive church, only to discover later that I was the most abused by that church. We awoke to the fact that homeschooling was driving a wedge between us and our daughter – that “mother as teacher” was too much for her to bear.

    Much of my personal growth happened after I walked out of the Reformed church of my youth. In the last two years, under Reformed, but more balanced, preaching, I’ve had the time to contemplate all of this teaching in light of my experience and Scripture, and it definitely doesn’t match what is being broadly taught in the conservative Reformed churches. Jesus had all authority, yet the disciples stayed not because He “sat in the seat of Moses”, but because “to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life”.

  6. I would describe this church as a cult, where power is claimed by those who profess to be greater than others, where fear, shame and guilt are primary motivators, and where relationship is replaced with overbearing rigidity and rules, and a legalistic, cookie-cutter approach to everything.

    Where is the beauty of relationship – with our Lord and one another? Where is the love and grace and mercy and truth and friendship and intimacy? And there is absolutely a time for righteous anger, where we are called to rise in defense of truth and justice and in defense of others. Apparently, in that horrible church, suffering is a sign of godliness.

    That is not of God. Our Lord must shake His head in disgust, for such churches create an image of Him that is in direct contradiction with what we know to be His great love for us and the wondrous restoration of relationship His blood purchased.

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

    There we see the contrast. There is a thief, and there is a Savior. And they’re not on the same team.

    1. What Reformed churches are out there that don’t follow R L Dabney, Doug Wilson, TGC [The Gospel Coalition] and their ilk?

      1. I think it depends on the church. I think most that follow Westminster tend to have an abusive view of authority – PCA, OPC. Churches that follow the three forms of unity tend to be less abusive – CRC, RCA. That said, it’s a completely mixed bag. The larger the denomination the more differences there will be between churches, so there might be a solid church within an abusive denomination, or an abusive church within a solid denomination. I’m much more familiar with the Westminster-style churches, though, and can’t speak as much to the others.

  7. These kind of church teachings might or might not create abusers from normal people, but they definitely make the real abusers much, much worse.

  8. Wow, from Reformed all the way to the hyper-Charismatic Vineyard….no wonder my Bible reading for the past months has been chalk-full of “Woe to the shepherds!” Indeed, they have ruled the sheep with force and cruelty….no wonder God is about to feed them in judgement.

    (Ezekiel 34:15-24) “I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down,” saith the Lord God. “I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.

    “And as for you, O my flock,” thus saith the Lord God; “Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats. Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.”

    Therefore thus saith the Lord God unto them; “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.

    “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and He shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it.


  9. This is exactly the teaching at the church I am now leaving. Exactly. Furthermore, you must get permission from the pastor for almost everything. Many women have shared with me how their husband abuses them, emotionally and even physically, but they have been told to “be their husband’s cheerleaders” and pray for him and I was even told once to “sacrifice myself as Jesus did on the cross”. I got zero help when asking over the duration of several years for counseling. I was always told what I needed to do, but he always got off the hook.

    I saw a glimmer of hope once when I told a woman sharing her husband’s abuse with me, that it was not normal and that he wasn’t right for treating her as he was, and that she didn’t have to be his cheerleader. She seemed to see the light for a second. But now that I’m leaving and have expressed my disagreement with some of the things taught, I haven’t heard from her. Anyone else I’ve heard from has just been telling me how I need to be back at church.

    I’m slowly building up my confidence to formally leave via written correspondence. I know it won’t be welcomed. I may even face persecution. I’ve already mentally let go of most of the friends I’ve made because we have hardly anything in common. It will be difficult due to people wanting to correct me or trying to persuade me that I’ll be showing that I’m unregenerate if I leave. I’m taking it one day at a time. This site has helped me to start having confidence in the truth.

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

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