Abusers Often Betray their Disguise in Subtle Ways we Must not Ignore

UPDATE Sept 2021: I have 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.


[August 17, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

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  ESV)

Winks with his eyes. Signals with his feet. Points with his finger. The non-verbal 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.

  1. The oral sex statement this mega-pastor made.
  2. 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.

Another example

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.

[August 17, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to August 17, 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 August 17, 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 August 17, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 17, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Related posts

It Only Takes a Wink or a Glance to Abuse

Abuse Without a Word — Nonverbal Abusive Communications

The Poison of Serpents is Under The Lips of the Abuser

The Most “Godly” Person You Know Probably Isn’t

41 thoughts on “Abusers Often Betray their Disguise in Subtle Ways we Must not Ignore”

  1. Yes, it comes out. That sense that something’s wrong is so important. Gavin DeBecker’s book “The Gift of Fear” really elaborates on the importance of not ignoring those senses. When I was in college my dad talked about how terrible the sermon had been one Sunday, how filled with graphic descriptions of David’s relationship with, not Bathsheba, but Abigail! Shortly after that, my parents found out that that extremely spiritually abusive pastor had been committing adultery with his music minister’s wife. The burning lust was in his head and had to come out of his mouth, so he chose, as you say, an “acceptable” but extremely titillating way to do so.

      1. Yes! My abusive husband started introducing me to people as his fiancee before I had even accepted his proposal. I know now that that was a huge red flag and I should have ended things immediately. Little things are not little; they are things the abuser uses to test the waters and gain a foothold.

      2. …people who will not accept “no” in little things are not to be trusted.

        Little things are not little; they are things the abuser uses to test the waters and gain a foothold.

        So true. Today I spent several hours with my psychopathic husband and was again reminded (I never forget but it was intense today) that EVERYTHING HE SAYS AND DOES IS A VIOLATION and also a test. It NEVER ends and he’s extremely CREEPY.
        He lies constantly, and asks questions he already knows the answers to but it’s a way to FORCE us to talk to him (which violates us) and he’ll ask the question in a way that leaves out the truth, so if we answer it “incorrectly” he can “prove” that we are liars and he “caught” us!

        His boundary violations also extend to his CONSTANT presence. If we’re waiting in the car and he’s smoking he’ll always place himself in our line of vision, ALWAYS. When we go into the store he’ll say he’ll catch up after he smokes but he ALWAYS creeps right next to us so we have gotten into the habit of RUNNING into the store to get away from him. By the way, smoking itself is a VIOLATION and he always tries to smoke where someone will be forced to smell it. And making us WAIT for him while he smokes is a way to control / manipulate us. He’ll tell us he wants to leave at a certain time so we get ready and are heading out the door and then he says he still needs to do this or that and we then have to wait.

        When he asks questions it’s always in a way that takes away any credit that a person deserves and undermines their efforts. Our daughter got a job while he was gone recently and it was with benefits and good hours etc. He then questioned her about if they would pay for this or that and if they were gonna accommodate her for this and that. It COMPLETELY took away from the fact that she initiated the job hunting and acquired a good job all without his help or input. Even if we do everything perfectly and take care of all the responsibility for all things, he’ll come up with things to fault us for and keep asking questions so it looks like we failed. I was raised with an evil man like this and as a result I was CONSTANTLY over explaining every action and every thought but I still always ended up failing because they will come up with inane things that you didn’t accomplish–even though these things have nothing to do with anything–just things to make you look worthless.

      3. The behavior described by Anonymous is all so familiar. It’s exactly how my ex would speak to the children. On the surface it might have sounded as if he was being caring, but he was actually always subtly undermining and belittling them. They would be left upset, unhappy and confused, especially if I wasn’t around to support them. The older child has refused all contact with him for years. Now that’s a red flag that most people get —but not the church people.

  2. I am realizing just how prevalent this is. And wondering why. How could we have gotten so far away into a far country that, speaking of the badly corrupted church, we have barely a recollection of what our Father’s country is like, and live like citizens of this world? Many years ago, there was a lay minister, and I use that term loosely, who got himself into a position of leadership in our church, during a change of pastors. He quickly ingratiated himself to the new pastor and began doing “deliverance” ministry and counselling. Fast forward to half a year later and he was up on charges of gross sexual misconduct. He was using people’s desire to receive help and church teaching on trusting leadership, submitting to authority and stepping out in faith, to lead them into sin and error. If that wasn’t bad enough, he had been in this church for over twenty years and had a history of sexual misconduct which enough people knew about. No one said anything, or if anyone did, they were obviously brushed off as being judgemental and unforgiving. When the charges broke, he lied and used many devious tricks to avoid being confronted. The only restrictions put on him, when he got out of prison, and still largely unrepentant I am told, were that he could not teach or prophesy or have anything to do with the women of the church. He did not have to leave and he was not offered any real corrective help or ministry. His victims had to attend church with him or leave. The church did not offer to help his victims, and did not even admit their responsibility in the matter. I’ve seen this same refusals to follow scripture in an immorality case, in this same denomination, in another church.

    What’s up with this, though? Are we all under some kind of collective mesmerisation? I have found myself repeatedly led astray by a combination of my own desires and of allowing myself to listen to other people’s words but deny the meaning of their actions, or allow myself to be talked out of abiding by scripture even by a pastor – twice! How could I be so clueless as to not realize that anyone who doesn’t honor what God’s word has to say on any thing, lacks humility and is not what they appear? Why do we keep on doing such foolish things, acting like Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football? I know the Bible says the whole world lies in the embrace of the evil one.

    CS Lewis referred to it as that anaesthetic fog: What will all that chatter and hearsay count when the anesthetic fog we call the real world fades away and the divine presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate and unavoidable? Yet what is truly disturbing is that the whole church seems also to lie in that same embrace; perhaps it is end time delusion, perhaps something else, but I would sure like to know how we wound up at this present low estate and how to get out of this while there is still time.

    1. Kind of Anonymous – this is just an excellent essay you have written here. Very insightful. I am going to make a regular post out of it (you remain Kind of Anonymous) and schedule it for posting so more people are sure to see it. Partial answer to your “why?” and “how?” — Christians have been subjected to a false gospel and false teaching for decades now, enslaved by the every kind of wolves Paul warned the Galatians about. It is time to stop drinking the Kool Aid.

      1. Thank you for the compliment and of course, I would be honored.
        I agree that whatever gospel we have today must not be the gospel of Paul or even of the reformers. It makes me think of trying to fix a car up on blocks. We are all standing around looking at it, agreeing that somehow the wrong part got put in the wrong place somehow. That’s why the car has no power and won’t go. But unless I know which part is in the wrong place, and what right part should replace it, I’m going nowhere. That in fact, has often been my complaint in church with line by line preachers who think that this is true preaching, in terms of repenting from the therapeutic gospel and other false versions of the gospel.. It’s not enough to know what the text means, I need to know how to apply it and even have help identifying where I am currently not applying it.. Jesus taught that way, with examples from real life, yet many ‘biblically’ solid preachers seem to think that if you are a real believer you shouldn’t need that much information! Yet I can’t help wondering if there is a reason God refers to His people as sheep in need of a shepherd. I would sure love to see the real laid alongside the false so the contrast is identifiable, like in one of those comparison charts. 🙂

    2. Thank you for your post, Kind Of Anonymous. Your comments and insight really resonates with me. I wish it was harder to be led astray from within the body. A real shame.

    1. I understand the first example concerning the lewd mega-pastor and the other pastor in his “class” who insisted that abused wives stay with their abuser husbands. Yes, that is clearly wrong. But I don’t understand why the wives in the other 2 examples are excused for their outright rude behavior. To see / hear the wife telling her husband on the phone: “Leave me alone. alright, alright. goodbye.” does sound pretty mean by itself, not knowing what the husband was saying on his end of the conversation. Perhaps he was nagging / badgering her and she was exasperatedly giving in once again to his unreasonable demands.

      In the other example, there is no possible excuse for the wife to burst into the office while he was in a meeting and rudely demand: “Are you done yet? I told you we have to leave now!”. That sounds a lot more abusive than the husband calmly replying: “Ok, ok, we are just finishing up here. I’m coming.”. You call it a “cold unloving” tone of voice-? As opposed to the wife’s loud bossy words and tone of voice? That’s not warm and loving. It would be different if she came in and quickly said Hi, acknowledged [you] the guest, and then maybe said: “[Excuse me] John, we’re late- we gotta go.”. Big difference. Even if he needled her all day, she has no reason to be rude to you. Now, when my verbally / emotionally / spiritually abusive husband needles me [which other people don’t see] and I snap back at him [which they ALL see], suddenly I’m the “abuser” and he’s the “victim”. Yeah, right. So, how could you see past the “obvious” appearances and sense that HE’s the perp, not her?

      1. Melanie, What Jeff wrote is the truth and I’d like to add to it.

        Abusers are deceivers and that’s what they PREFER to be — meaning they would rather others believe a lie about them then actually trying to BE the person they’re portraying themselves as. And they love to fool as many people as possible. Their father is the devil and all that…

        And “linear” responses aren’t gonna happen without serious damage to the victim. What are linear thinking / responses? They are the responses that SHOULD coincide with certain actions. Like if we are chatting and talking about kittens or some sweet thing and my husband comes in and sits with us and enjoys the conversation. That’s the “right” response. But if he comes bursting through the door screaming that he can’t take it anymore and he’s leaving–that’s a SEEMINGLY inappropriate (non-linear) response.

        Abusers are abusing constantly without ceasing. Even during the “good times” they are being abusive and setting the stage for later abuse. So with all this abuse taking place at all times combined with employing others to help them in their deception, the victim may SEEM to be responding in an inappropriate way–to those who buy the abuser’s façade–but it is actually the right response to overwhelming abuse. And abusers COUNT ON and use these moments to their advantage to look like the long-suffering spouse of a deranged husband or wife. “See how crazy she is? All I said was that I like fluffy kittens better than short-haired, even though I have an allergy to all cats–I love my wife so much that I let her get one anyway. And she comes in here with guns blazing telling me she’s gonna leave me cuz I’m so abusive! See the abuse I have to suffer?”

        And GOD FORBID we aren’t all perfect ALL THE TIME! It never ceases to amaze me that abusers can do the most outlandish things and others will make endless excuses for them. Whereas, often the victims of these people are held to impossible standards and allowed no grace or leeway and are then held accountable for their abusive spouses evil heart. And just FYI there’s a post on this website that talks about how many of these abusers have very controlled voices that sound oh-so-nurturing and concerned. All just part of the play-acting they’re doing and we make it easy for them by thinking that if someone raises their voice to these “kind” people, surely THEY are the problem.

      2. Melanie – In dealing with abusers and their victims, it is important to understand that appearances are incredibly deceiving. One favorite deception of abusers is to maneuver the victim into appearing to be the “problem.” So, in the two cases you are questioning, on the surface it looks like the wife is the problem. But time would tell that was not the case. There was in fact understandable reason for these women’s behavior. You said that “there is no possible excuse for the wife to burst into the office”….but I can think of scores of scenarios in which her behavior was quite understandable if we just knew what had been going on prior. Remember, abusers love to “crazy-make” and are quite pleased when the victim is driven to these kinds of behaviors in front of others.

      3. I’m adding this here for those who are following this thread. The following comment came from this post How Can We be so Clueless About Evil? and I’m putting it here because when we are NOT told about abusers and how they are always, 100% of the time abusing (even when they APPEAR to be kind, hard working people), they can actually destroy some of the kindest-hearted people and everybody loses when this happens.

        Suzanne, November 22, 2016 – 4:42 am [wrote]:

        I no longer attend church even though I’ve been fortunate to have been a member of a church that was devoted to teaching and practicing the Word. The reason why I left is directly related to my inability to function in social settings. Having been raised to believe that I was worthless I staggered into adulthood with no social skills and terrible social anxiety, always feeling that no one could like me and never knowing how to relate to others. After years of trying I just gave up. The fog of abuse, even when we’re aware of it and how we came to live in it, is a powerfully destructive force.

        Here is a person who, even though she has finally found a loving church community, is unable to fellowship due to the major damage she’s received from long-time abuse. Some would blame her but they would be WRONG. Forewarning is one of the things the Bible is perpetually doing for us. We are forewarned and therefore forearmed when the Bible tells us about evil people and what they will look like (loving, happy saints of the church) and where we can expect to find them (in the church) and what their fruits will look like (evil). For those of us here for any length of time, we realize how CLEAR the verses are that address this evil yet the church teaching we received blinded us instead of bringing it into clear, sharp focus. Here again, the bible forewarned us this would be taking place.

        Even though some preachers may be naïve and when they don’t understand the truth about evil and so may encourage reconciliation when an abuse victim comes to them for help, this doesn’t give them a free pass. The damage of long standing abuse is TOO soul-destroying and too abusive to allow for ignorance. Even when I have been unaware of the true nature of abuse, I could SEE when a person was in pain and was suffering and therefore even when I thought I didn’t have the entire picture–I could see that someone needed at the very least– kindness NOT condemnation.

        I completely understand Suzanne and her heart. My life is very similar to hers except that I had to be around others in order to make a living. But I’ve always hated myself, thinking I was worthless and useless too. The damage that is done to people like us by people who think saying nice things using a nice tone of voice means that they are dealing with nice people, and therefore people like me who may be so painfully shy and who stutters due to this must be hiding something or are defective–simply enable the evil ones and keep those who could truly benefit from love and kindness–shuttered away.

  3. Great post—thank you, Pastor Jeff.

    Years ago I remember attending a Christian conference and enjoying hearing several really good speakers. But after a while this well known Pastor gave a session where the sermon left me squirming in my seat. I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt so uncomfortable. The sermon seemed ok and he was a good speaker. But I just keep feeling there was something wrong. Halfway through the sermon I left.

    Less than one year later, the news broke that he was had been having a long term affair. His large church completely evaporated over night. Some of my friends who had been members of that church were damaged by this guy’s careless disregard for his flock.

    Fast forward a few years and once again I’m sitting in a church service and feeling that same weird feeling again. This time some friends had invited me to attend a multi-church rally. At first the service was wonderful with great worship. Then this well known evangelist gets up and starts sharing his testimony. He’s talking about how he came to the Lord out of a rough background and the Lord began visiting him in visions. Then he describes being able to leave his house and visit Heaven. The more he talked—the more it sounded like he was making it all up to entertain us.

    Meanwhile, I’m thinking about some of my friends who actually did come to the Lord out of rough backgrounds but they made a total 180 degree shift of real repentance and are humble people who work hard, take care of their families, and when they talk—don’t sound like they’re making up weird stuff.

    Plus, while I’m sitting there feeling this weird vibe—I’m thinking about all the descriptions of visions in the Bible where the Lord visited someone—that’s the thing—the Lord was the one causing the vision to start and stop—the person themselves didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to visit Heaven on their own—which is exactly what that evangelist was describing—that he had figured out how to go back and forth to Heaven whenever he felt like it.

    By this point I’m feeling so uncomfortable that I want to leave but also didn’t want to be rude to my friends so I stayed through the whole service. Shortly thereafter the news broke that this evangelist was also having an affair in addition to other really questionable behavior. Turns out my friends had been feeling weird about the whole thing too.

    Now looking back on this—I’ve learned to pay more attention to that “creep factor.” Just because someone is famous, seemingly successful, and admired by everyone doesn’t mean they deserve your attention.

    1. Exactly – I learned this the hard way, abroad in another culture (of course, the same principles apply, in any cultural setting.. ego boost is a common sin) .. I could not understand how a seemingly sincere and anointed person seeking to serve the Lord could be so cruel and heartless!?

      It was a wonderful lesson that I have cherished ever since, and seemingly strong spirituality no longer impresses me… Just because someone seems to be oozing spirituality and giftings, does not mean they have a genuine heart. Even if people are genuinely healed and blessed by their preaching… it is not the proof that the person is trustworthy.
      Too often, those of us who dare to pay attention to those warnings or the ‘still small voice’, are labeled as critical – and too carnal… I have been taught many times that those uncomfortable feelings are just a sign that the Holy Spirit is working and causing us to be convicted..! What bull..!
      The real Holy Spirit does open our eyes to uncomfortable truths, but He always lines up with the Truth Himself, Lord Jesus. No fake anointings or weird stuff!

    2. As I read your comment Avid Reader, I was reminded of how my abuser has a favourite evangelist’s testimony he always listens to. It is a man who claims to have gone to heaven in a near death experience. He was living like the devil, then says he died in an accident and was forgiven by God and taken to heaven, because of his mother’s prayers for him his whole life. He now claims to be able to visit ‘open heaven’ whenever he wants, and his young son also claims to now be able to ‘visit heaven’ on cue.

      When I first heard this guys testimony it immediately sounded false to me. I could not understand how my abuser could like it so much. I think it is because it falsely says you can live in sin and still die and go be with the Lord, that the Lord will have mercy on you because of your ‘mother’s prayers’.

      I’ve since watched a few of this evangelist’s videos trying to examine what he is saying. Every time he comes off as a cheap, con man type to me, with a huge ego. He appears to be a narcissist who one day ran out of money to finance his lifestyle and so came up with this ridiculous story to fleece ‘Christians’ out of their money, and so they can hang on his every word on stage.

      I’m always suspicious of the big personality up on stage.

    1. KOA,

      Exactly. If he had called it what it really was no one would have listened to him. But instead because he kept using all this Christian language and talking about how when he first got saved all he wanted to do was spend time alone with the Lord and kept having these amazing encounters in prayer with the Lord—discovering spiritual “portals”—it sounded so holy and good. To me—it sounded more like he needed something exciting to sell his tapes.

      1. That kind of New Age stuff has crept into some segments of the Charismatic world in recent years, and sincere people who are so hungry for experiences, are ready to swallow any tales..
        There was such a ‘minister’ several years ago, boasting of his ‘spirit travels’ via ‘heavenly portals’.. and when his adulterous lifestyle was exposed, there were still plenty of preachers and pastors willing to endorse him.

  4. I have to say that I am relieved, and happy to have finally found this site, now several years after divorcing my husband [we’d been married about a decade, and he had a leadership role at church]. I married him when I was quite young, not truly knowing who he was, or who I was. We did not marry for the right reasons, but I was convinced that we could do anything with God. I did not believe this man would try to invalidate or completely chain me down or do anything to harm me in anyway. I was so wrong.

    I attempted to further my education, and he fought me. Seeking to please and uphold “his calling”, I forfeited my education, but not working out side the home. Anytime I asked about the vision for our family, and how any of it included my hopes, dreams and desires (as he had originally so promised to uphold as a faithful husband), he had no answers … nothing. He stonewalled. I worked and gave all I could to build up our family while he did what he wanted with whom he wanted, all conveniently in the name of God.

    Every time I suggested that we go to counseling, I was met with retort of “Are you even a Christian? Do you even have faith that we can do this?” I felt so unworthy as a believer. This mental abuse, shaving, shaping training, continued. After I discovered pornography on our computer, and confronted him, I learned again he had no care. It wasn’t even on his radar that he had a problem, because “it was in the past,” and he “dealt with it with God already.” I called baloney, and contemplated leaving him. I was pregnant at the time though, and felt utterly helpless. I can tell you that, while involved in ministry together during this time, he was confronted by elder men in the church about his treatment of me after the birth of one of our kids (several years into the marriage). He then blamed me for being a victim, and I couldn’t believe it.

    I thought though, after seeking my own counsel, that it wasn’t me, as I was confirmed continually that this was not just me being emotional, or a “stupid woman” or obsessive over a husband to change, nor was I wrong for having hopes, dreams, and desires of my own. I eventually convinced him to come to marriage counseling, but when he was convicted again of his behavior, he demanded we change counselors because he “just didn’t connect” with the counselor. This continued until the only job he could find after he completed his studies, was in a remote part of the state. I was devastated. I had returned to school, albeit without “checking with him” this time – I had a full scholarship, so he couldn’t debate me, and most of it was online… so again, I cleared myself of having to fight about anything. He put the decision on me to make – so of course, he would not be at fault if I was unhappy – every ounce of decision making power I had or my faith was bounced around by his backward and self serving, ego-stroking life philosophy. He took me on a lavish trip prior to me having to make this decision (the “charmer” stage). By this time, he understood that I’d put my family and his hopes, desires, and dreams above my own … He only needed to exploit my desire to be a “good Christian wife” and “serve others” along with my ambition & dedication to make things work no matter what.

    We moved, and I decided in my strong, beautiful soul, that this would be it for me — either I’d see him change, or it would be the end if he put the leaders up as a shield for himself, and made me out to be the horrible woman with ambition and self worth. I knew by now I was capable of raising our children on my own, as I had been for the past several years. Needless to say, I was brought before the leadership team of the church in the rural community for wanting to divorce. My ex sat, expressionless on the same couch for hours while my faith, integrity, and my essence and worth in the eyes of my Creator was ridiculed. That was it for me. This was not a marriage, I was not safe, and I needed to get out.

    I have to share also, I never wanted to be a mother. I became one, largely due to his family’s expectations and wanting to please my ex., however, I am beyond happy that I have my children – without them, I never would have left the abusive situation, nor known how strong I had to be to stand on my own. My kids call me to keep on pressing on, even when I do not wish to. Due to the courts still not being able to recognize this type of abuse – psychological – by a narcissist, he still has half custody of our children, and also was remarried after our divorce, […]. So far, things remain okay, except that our children are emotionally showing signs of some residuals weekly from going between one life philosophy to another, but luckily, we do have them in counseling – and I have to approve the counselor. I will not allow my children to be abused and brainwashed by this man or his family.

    It is difficult as well, because, with out the help of his step-wife, I would not be able to work and provide for my children. He knows this, and is fine with it. Any attempt that I have tried at having a relationship, he has attempted to disassemble. He event tried to warrant how we could proceed with future relationships in the divorce decree! The lust for control does not cease with divorce, and the children are used as a control tactic (i.e. are you putting them first, what about being a moral compass, do you even care about the time you spend with our kids (when speaking of taking on more responsibility at jobs for better pay etc.).

  5. I work at a pregnancy center and screen possible volunteers (and train them). I have found that those who use God’s name the most and talk about how He has “led” them, often have no real relationships with others and are really pretty rebellious and arrogant. I learn a lot about human nature in this job and it’s getting so that super-“spiritual” people creep me out. I’m relearning to trust my gut after 32 years of being abused by a Bible-quoter.

  6. I have a question.
    Here’s the background. We (my kids and I) had to leave our abuser of over twenty years. And then we left our old church after the shaming and guilt got SO bad.

    So now we’ve been attending another relatively conservative church for some months. Since our first week, I have seen a couple that jumps out at me. There are so many things that send up red flags for me when I see them in church. The creepy, uneasy feelings jump right in my throat when I see them. He insists she sit next to him. He has his jaw set most of the time when he’s with her, but he’s all smiles with other men in the church. She won’t look at him for most of the service. When they stand, he clamps his hand around her on her hip. She doesn’t smile, but stands stiffly. She turns away from him, and smiles overly big at her kids. She interacts with the kids, but she doesn’t speak to him, and he doesn’t speak to her. The kids whisper and smile with their mom in church, but don’t talk or smile with their dad. When they do sit next to their dad, and he says something to them, they have really serious looks on their faces, their eyes get huge, and they look at their mom. […] He is friends with the pastors. He is even called down front to pray to close the service. He went on a short term missions trip with the pastor (without her, she stayed home). The pics from the trip often featured him front and center even though there were other men and women that went on the trip. This guy was praised to the high heavens for how hard he worked on this trip, and how they couldn’t have done all they did without him.

    This lady and children have been heavy on my heart, seeing these things week after week. So I prayed about it and then wrote her a note and handed it to her when he wasn’t around. I said I was praying for them. In the note, I told her I had seen signs similar to what I had experienced. I said I knew what it was like to have a “wonderful Christian” husband in church who was very different at home. In the note, I suggested names of books to read like “Why Does He Do That?” “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” and others. I said she should check out this blog, A Cry for Justice. I said that I had noticed. I had seen, and I wanted her to get help if she needed it.

    She found my number and called me that afternoon. She was upset. She assured me that he was wonderful. She said that – sure, they have problems, but nobody’s perfect, and that all couples do. She started questioning me. What she wanted to know most of all was – what was I seeing? How could she change her behavior at church so that they don’t give off any impression of there being trouble. She really wanted to know what signals they might be sending so that those signal behaviors can be changed. I just apologized and said I must have been projecting from my past, and that I was glad I was wrong. I told her that I had wished that someone had noticed that something was wrong with my “perfect couple” facade. I apologized again for assuming or projecting. She assured me that they were good, and that they were adopting more children, even though their kids are teens and nearing college.

    So… my question is – should I have sent the note? In the future, should I wait for a big revelation of big egregious behavior (although I know they’re usually more careful than that)? Should I keep my nose out? What would be the best course of action with her going forward? What should I do with any future situations that jump out at me like this?

    Like I said, I wish someone had noticed me and my trouble. I want to make sure that if there is someone struggling around me, that I let them know that they are seen and noticed, and are shown where to get help.

    Thanks for any help or opinions.

    1. Hi MM,
      I think your note may have been too direct and explicit. She clearly isn’t yet identifying herself as an abused woman, and is very scared of her husband and his retaliation if he finds out that what they portray in public is being seen through by wise people like you.

      It was not necessarily a bad idea to send a note. But if the note had been more low key, showing you are willing to be friends with her but not indicating that you think her husband is abusive, she might have been able to take it without such fear and without closing down.

      Now it’s done, I don’t think that you should wait for a revelation of big egregious behavior, nor do I think you should refrain from communicating with her altogether — unless she asks you to. You’ve apologised for upsetting her and that’s good. Now I think you can gently try to find ways to be friendly to her in a light way, without trying to get deep. If she is willing to do that with you, then maybe later you might be able to say things that might help her consider other perspectives on her marital situation.

      We have resources on this site which will help you mentally rehearse what things you might be able to say to her, if and when she trusts you as an acquaintance who cares for her but who doesn’t suggest she go where she’s not yet ready to go. Once you’ve rebuilt some trust with her again, it will be better to gently ask her questions, rather than tell her what you think she should read or should do. You can be seeking to understand how she perceives her life, her family, etc, and how she feels about things — any things, trivial and light weight things first, then more personal things later. And it’s important to say positive things to her, to praise her, appreciate her, honour her for things she does well like how well she relates to her kids. And steer clear of mentioning your perceptions of her marriage. But if she appears sad or hurt or upset, it would be okay, once she feels more safe with you, for you to kindly say you’ve noticed that she looked sad, or worried, or whatever you noticed about her mood, and how you are concerned for her — without offering her any diagnosis of why she might have been feeling that way.

      Here are links:

      For families, friends & neighbours [Internet Archive link]

      Converting statements into questions – a skill for bystanders who want to help victims of abuse

  7. My question is, is it fair for us to put pastors, elders, and other leaders on pedestals? After all, they are human, and even the most loving couples may still be learning how to communicate with each other.

    We are all on the sanctification highway, and most of us are not on top of our game all the time. If we over hear a pastor and his wife talking, and they are not on good terms that day, is it fair to assume there is abuse present based on that one eavesdrop?

    On the other hand, I followed Doug Phillips of Vision Forum for quite a few years. He seemed to exemplify Godly manhood. All of his speeches, sermons, teachings, books, etc. were built around men being men, women being women, children being obedient and respectful, families being morally solid and righteous. It all sounded reasonable and good.

    Then scandal broke out that brought about the demise of his entire ministry. I was angry that I had looked up to this man as he apparently had been deceiving many people for a very long time. I haven’t checked back in to his story in probably a year or so, but I would like to follow up and see what has become of the situation with him, his family, and his company. I truly bought in to all his teaching, thinking this man was a living example of practicing what he preached. I was so wrong, and it made me feel so foolish afterward. Yuck!

  8. I cannot say “AMEN” loudly enough. This topic is probably the main reason I visit this blog. It is imperative to stay “fine tuned” in a world where abusers hide behind a churchy mask.

    If I could share this: my husband and I had our eyes opened a few years ago when our closest friends (a couple in our church) had a sudden and dramatic split. The wife confided that she had been psychologically abused for a couple of decades, since before their marriage had even started. I was shocked. And yet, when I really thought about things, it occurred to me that what she had said wasn’t so hard to believe. It was a terrible, heartbreaking experience for my husband and I to find out that not only was this abuse going on right under our noses, but that we had actually been part of the abuser’s “system” of manipulation and control. It was quite a grievous wake-up call. I prayed desperately for God to reveal why we hadn’t seen the signs. And then, the Lord in His gentle way, showed me that we had indeed seen the signs, the red flags — we had just chosen to ignore them. Ouch.

    It is because of that experience (along with the abuse that was turned on us when the abuser realized we were not going to be his allies) that led me to this site. Because of this site, I can say, “Never again,” and mean it. The wisdom and insight found here, along with tremendous support for victims, has been an invaluable asset.

    1. keening- Thank you for sharing. I know exactly what your experience was like and what it feels like when the lights go on and we see the evil for what it is. We had it in our church for over two decades parading as ultra-holiness. It is a contagion that attracts other evil people as well. Yes, “never again.”

      1. “Never again.” Yes, this is certainly what we purpose, but abusers come in many various manifestations and degrees. After seeing a counselor and investigator with four decades of experience in dealing with the moral void of abusers miss the clear (to me and many others) signs and actions in a particularly abusive person, I have come to believe that we are never completely immune to being taken in at some point, to some degree or another. They know how to read people and work people, and we may not always see the paper bag mask slip, at least initially.

  9. I am continuing to notice these subtle clues in my abuser. He reveals his true motives, his true arrogance, and his true heart quite often. Although he has mastered the Christianese speech, he is still utterly full of himself. I won’t call him on it. I would not want to coach him on how to be better at fooling people.

  10. I notice this with some comedians. They’ll start out with safe and funny topics then escalate to talking about some aspect of their sex life and then get cruder, and you are forced to listen to things you have no desire to hear. It’s why I rarely listen to them anymore.

    It’s so true what you’ve written Pastor Crippen, how these evil ones so often reveal themselves if we are in-tune enough to know what a red flag is. I attended some Christian concerts at a huge church where we used to live. It seemed like a great place so I tried the Sunday service a few times and the pastor and his assistants put on a marvelous, highly entertaining performance–especially since it was just the regular services. We attended maybe four concerts over the course of the year and at the last one we noticed something. At the morning service the pastor was very cocky and the congregation was much smaller than it had been. He was highly sexually acting towards his wife, and it seemed so odd. He was talking about the upcoming concert that was scheduled for that evening and he made sure to say that the man performing was good-looking and the ladies should know that he was single! We balked at this because we knew (anyone who new this artist knew) that he was married.

    So when we returned for the evening concert the pastor was again there introducing the performer. He was very angry however and he rudely said that if people brought friends or neighbors to the regular services they’d have a chance to with some gift cards or other prizes. Apparently this pastor had been so abusive that he lost a significant number of parishioners due to his tyrannical ways and sexual exploits and he resented having to try to entice people to come to his church with door prizes. But they had lost so many people, he had to resort to this. It was obvious that he thought he was god and that everyone should come to his church to see HIM and he had no comprehension that he and his assistant pastors who were just like him, had caused true Christians to run away. By the way when the performer for the evening started the concert the FIRST thing he did was introduce his wife and talk about her. HE was not trying to manipulate people into thinking they had a chance with him.

  11. I also have to note, because I have been there and it took me years to realize what was happening: This pastor, talking about oral sex. Yes, it’s a red flag about something hidden, but it’s also very blatant. The wife does not want to participate in a particular activity in the bedroom. The husband wants her to. One or the other or both actually believe that the pastor has the right to override the woman’s lack of consent. Stop right there! When one partner controls the other in the bedroom and consent is overridden, that is sexual assault. Being married doesn’t change that. When I complained to my pastor that things were happening that I found disgusting and did not consent to, he told me to extend grace to my husband because we live in a porn-soaked culture. NO. The appropriate response would have been to clearly instruct my husband to stop sexually assaulting me. He was raping me because he believes that marriage made my consent irrelevant. So this big name pastor is not just revealing that he probably has a secret sin in this department, he’s also openly telling his female congregants that it’s okay for their husbands to pressure them into unwanted sexual activity.

  12. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve learned to look for “signs” such as you’ve described in others but I’ve struggled with feeling critical, especially when trying to explain my observations to others.

    I was married to an abuser for many years and now feel hypersensitive to certain signs….however, my powers of observation and the wisdom I’ve gained in observing and assessing people led to a good paying job with benefits after being home with 8 children for many years. I can spot arrogance a mile away (in both men and women). Doesn’t Proverbs exhort us to observe AND draw conclusions from what we see and hear?

  13. (Light airbrushing…)

    Rather than put ^Like! or ^That! after the original post and many of the comments generated, I place them at the end.

    Much of my understanding is from hindsight, the nature of a lifetime of personal and professional abuse affecting my previous inability to discern.

    In hindsight, I had a counsellor who blamed me for their inability to do the “heart” stuff.

    In hindsight, I could cite any number of examples where I was undermined by abusers for doing the right thing without “their permission” or asking “their advice”.

    In hindsight, I can recognize what may have been red flags of abuse in certain (other people’s) relationships, whether they were the abuser or the abused.

    Now, the Holy Spirit is teaching me the equivalent of intuition through a light, non-physical pressure-sense. While my intuition may be fully functional in some areas, the violation of an emotional boundary in infancy has left me with some intuitive blank spots.

    The slight twisting of words, of voice, of mannerisms can leave me with what I describe as an “itchy” sensation. Not an actual physical sensation, but a heads up to get my attention. I am learning to pay attention.

    I have been battling with “abuser” versus “abused” since last night – the pre-sleep shadowy memory sense warning me of an incipient battle.

    “Tells” or red flags are recognizable, though they may be experienced in a variety of ways.

    The key is learning the internal / intuitive method of communication.

    1. I love watching your journey as you document it for us here on this blog, Finding Answers.

      I’ve read a bit about the plasticity of the brain and how the brain can adapt and change depending on what is needed and what is missing or disabled. For example, on rare occasions surgeons have had to remove a large part (about half) of a child’s brain because the child had a brain tumor. Amazingly, the remaining part of the brain adapts and learns to carry out the functions that would normally be done by the part of the brain that has been removed.

      I think the Holy Spirit is doing something like this with your intuition.

      1. I did some reading on neuroplasticity a number of years ago and was fascinated by the various compensations and / or adaptations. Things assumed as “fact” by mainstream medicine and the scientific community were based on fallacious hypotheses.

        I have connected the dots on the light, pressure-sense. It is a refinement of a healing gift I have used – in one context or another – since I was a child. Knowing the longer term picture is calming, an explanation for how they fit.

        With each refinement has come the opportunity to put my gift to God’s service. The difficulty is waiting for understanding on / leading to my next “placement”.

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