Abusers Often Betray their Disguise in Subtle Ways we Must not Ignore
A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 6:12-15)
Winks with his eyes. Signals with his feet. Points with his finger. The nonverbal ways of the wicked man. Let’s think about these things a bit.
Quite a number of years ago — almost 20 I think — I attended a pastoral training class at a mega-church a few hours away from us. The pastor there was putting on the class. He was well-known because after he took a church over two decades or so before, the church rocketed to over 6,000 people. Huge campus. Millions and millions of dollars being invested in a completely new facility. He was the man. Their bookstore was filled with his books and tapes.
So we went there to learn “how to do it.” … Stupid. I know, I know.
During the morning presentation this pastor made a statement when he was talking to us about counseling. He said, and this is pretty much an exact quote, “Do you all know what is the most frequent question people ask when they come to me with their marriage troubles?” What do you think he gave as the answer? You won’t guess. Here it is – “They want me to help them sort out oral sex. Is it right? The wife is hesitant and the guy wants it. So they are in conflict.”
I only remember two things about that class.
- The oral sex statement this mega-pastor made.
- At that class I met another well-known and rather exalted pastor … and in the past couple of years two abuse victims have reported to me that this pastor instructed them they couldn’t divorce for abuse and pressured them to return to their abuser.
How did I react to the oral sex statement How did the class react? Well, the fact is that the statement was not true. It couldn’t be. I knew it — actually I had never ever had a married couple doing battle over that issue come to me for counseling. But, since Mr. experienced mega church pastor made the statement, we figured, “he knows a lot more than me. I guess he really has experienced that sort of thing.” And then we didn’t really give it another thought.
Jump ahead just a few years, before that church had even completed their new whazoo multi-millions facility. This pastor was in the headlines. Why? Because he had gone and gotten himself busted for lewd and immoral behavior in another state. Reports of it made their way back to his church. He was set up, he said. Falsely charged. Usual scenario — loyal fans rushed to his defense, including the elders of the church. But then other victims started coming forward. In fact, as it turns out, there had been a number of other accusations in past years over this guy acting immorally and lewdly toward several people. It had all been brushed aside.
But this time around, he couldn’t shake it. He ultimately resigned and later on the elders came to realize he was guilty.
Wicked people betray their true character in subtle ways
He was sexual abuser and a spiritual abuser, but I am certain that domestic abusers can fall under this observation as well. My point is this: — wicked people betray their true character in rather subtle ways, often in some setting that will enable them to explain away any accusation of abuse. Take this pastor for instance. Why was he talking to some 100 pastors about his oral sex thing? I can tell you why. He got his perverted kicks out of doing so. Almost like exposing himself in public and yet in a way that no one could charge him with anything. He was betraying what he really was. Not because he brought up the topic, but because of the setting in which he did it and the false nature of the “facts” he claimed.
We must learn to trust our instincts. We cannot excuse that “tweak” of uncomfortableness when the abuser’s mask drops for just a moment and the evil comes through before he sees his slip up and shoves the disguise back into place.
Let me give you another example which I probably have written about before. I went to visit a couple many years ago who had been coming to the church I pastored. When I arrived, it turned out that the husband was not home but I was invited to wait in the living room while the wife finished up a phone call to him. I could hear her speaking as I first walked in and she did not know I was there as yet. It was her tone. It did not match the image these two people had portrayed to us all as the fine, mature Christian couple. Nope. It was a tone of “leave me alone. Alright, alright, fine. Good-bye.” And then the hang up.
In later months I would learn that the husband was no doubt an abuser and as soon as he detected that he had been exposed even a little bit, suddenly they left and moved far away. What I saw that day, or rather, heard, was inconsistent with the disguise and in fact betrayed the truth of their relationship.
One more example
When I was in seminary (I had already been a pastor for ten years), I was in the office of an “up and coming” pastor who had his doctorate degree and headed up a growing, happening church. I was supposed to interview him as a project and I had actually met him before. We talked quite a long time, he showed me around the church facility, and then we went back to his impressive looking office. Then, his wife came in. “Are you done yet?” she said in a perturbed, tense voice. “I told you we have to leave now!”
“Ok, ok, we are just finishing up here. I’m coming,” he answered in a cold, flat, loveless voice.
This scene, you see, did not match the persona this pastor wore. What bothered me the most was not his wife’s frustration, but his cold, uncaring tone in response to her. I knew, or rather at that time I felt, something was wrong there. I later learned that they had anything but a happy family and not too long after things really blew up in that church and he was gone.
When our observations and senses detect things that just aren’t right, that simply do not fit appearances, we must not be ready to quickly suppress them and file them away. Abusers hide in our churches. But abusers slip up. Even the masterful kind are not perfect in their evil ways. Their fake halo slips and the horns protrude for a few seconds. And it is in those times we can be pretty sure we are in the presence of a deceiver. Warning systems are on. It is time to proceed with caution.