A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Harmful Counsel Harming Women Is A Church Problem – reblog by Rachael Starke

Paige Patterson’s approach to applying Scripture to the subject of divorce is one that leaders in other, equally broad streams of conservative evangelicalism use. E.g. Heath Lambert, recent president of ACBC, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Many thanks to Rachael Starke for allowing us to republish her post. Go here to read it at her blog where it includes an embedded audio file that we could only give a link to here.


Last month, Rachael Denhollander’s prophetic question about the worth of a little girl’s life brought the topic of institutionally ignored abuse of girls into sharp relief. Now Christians are asking a different version of that question all over again, about girls who grow up to be women who are being severely abused by their husbands, and go to their pastors for help.

Last week, RNS journalist Jonathan Merritt brought an 18- year old audio file of Paige Patterson comments at a CBMW conference about a woman in an abusive marriage asking him for help, out from the shadowy depths of the Christian watch-blogosphere into the bright light of Twitter. There are transcripts of Patterson’s remarks floating around, but to feel the full impact of Patterson’s recounting of his initial counsel to her, and its aftermath, it’s best to listen – it takes about 5 minutes.

Paige Patterson (SBC) Advice to Victims of Domestic Violence 

Patterson’s counsel is that the woman should pray by her bedside after her husband goes to sleep, and then to prepare for the possibility that her treatment might get worse. Sure enough, it does, and the woman returns to Dr. Patterson with two black eyes. The woman asks if the consequences of his counsel make him happy. Patterson replies that it does, because he’s noticed that the man had shown up at church, professing to be repentant.

When I first heard the audio, the only hope I felt was that its relative age meant that since then, Patterson’s happiness had turned deep sorrow over how his counsel enabled the dehumanizing assault of a woman. But later that same day, Merritt tweeted a much more recent piece of video from a conference in which Patterson, from a teaching pulpit, turns Genesis 2:22 into an anecdote involving an attractive teenage girl two boys’ objectifying comments about her, and his blessing their comments by referencing the same Bible verse. (Once again, it’s helpful to watch the segment, although if you have teenage daughters like I do, best to watch/listen where only Jesus hears anything you might say out loud.)

Far from repentance and change, Patterson’s attitudes about women seem to have deteriorated and atrophied in, I believe, a ministerially disqualifying way.

In the week since all this has come to light, a growing chorus of leaders in the SBC has called for Patterson to remove himself from leadership or be removed. So far, Patterson has refused. We don’t know yet whether he will relent, or whether the SBC will do the right thing in removing him themselves. But if either of those scenarios play out, many Christians might be tempted to believe that when Patterson goes, his views will go with him. They will be mistaken.

The tragic fact is, Patterson’s approach to applying Scripture to the subject of divorce is one that leaders in other, equally broad streams of conservative evangelicalism not only use themselves, but proffer as a model for the church as a whole.

Take Heath Lambert, the recent president of the Association of Christian Biblical Counselors.

In a live-streamed Q and A session at the most recent annual ACBC conference for the ACBC, Heath Lambert fielded the kind of hypothetical question Paige Patterson had experienced in real life. What could be done for a woman in an abusive or deeply broken marriage – involving things such as emotional abuse or sexual addiction – where there was not currently physical violence? Was there any Scriptural justification for a woman in such a marriage to pursue separation, or divorce?

Lambert’s strategy for answering the question is notably similar to Patterson’s. In Lambert’s case, he employs two separate texts – Mark 10, followed by 1 Peter 3 – to argue that the Bible says “no”. Once again, it’s best to watch the video to get the full context of Lambert’s remarks. The question begins at 44:58, and the segment lasts about 5 minutes.

In referencing Mark 10, Lambert’s statement that he’ll let Jesus’ words “sink in and go uninterpreted” is unfortunate, because it’s that lack of consideration of context that leads people to believe that Jesus is making some kind of a blanket statement about divorce, rather than a right framing of it for Jesus’ particular audience at that moment.

In Mark 10, the group posing the question to Jesus about the legality of divorce hardly has the welfare of abused women as their leading concern. They are the Pharisees, infamous for making the Old Testament Law a means to their various ends, chief among them playing legal gotcha games to try and challenge Jesus’ expertise in the law. Men in Jesus’ day were, ironically, doing the very thing of which women in abusive situations are often accused – making exaggerated claims about their spouse’s sinful or displeasing behavior as an excuse to abandon her. Moses recognized that divorce was a way of protecting women who would be at risk of worse than mistreatment if hardhearted men were not given the option. And yet those same hardhearted men were using the option to do the very thing Moses was trying to prevent. Jesus knew all of this, like he knew the Pharisees’ hearts, and both schooled them and indicted them in the process.

With 1 Peter 3, Lambert takes even more hermeneutical liberties, asserting that the phrase “even if some do not obey the word” represents a kind of MadLibs “fill in the blank” representation for any kind of sin being committed by any kind of husband (rather than the likely subcategory of an unbelieving husband vs. a professing believer). But in the very same breath, Lambert raises the category of physical violence as an exception, without giving any justification for why the exception he chooses is legitimate, but others, including ones Jesus himself names, are not.

Lambert’s counsel terminates at the same place as Patterson’s initial counsel – that a woman is to stay in a marriage where she’s not currently being physically beaten. Unlike the Patterson case, the question posed to Lambert is theoretical. But when we note the fruits of the application of that hypothetical borne with the real woman Paige Patterson counseled and then dismissed with such callous disregard,

I can’t help wondering about women who have come to the pastors and ACBC counselors who sat in that audience, or who were listening to that counsel directly online.

I can’t help thinking of the women and children I know personally, who bear deep mental, spiritual, and even physical scars from the verbal and psychological abuse they have endured.

And I can’t imagine what it would feel like for a woman to hear that her desperate desire to be rescued from such an environment, or to have her children delivered, was really a wrong desire to just feel good. (:49.50)

Given all that’s transpired since then, it’s notably providential that the theme for this year’s ACBC conference is Abuse. Hopefully, the events of this month will have a clarifying effect on the conference agenda. Were Heath Lambert continuing on as president, he might take the opportunity to reconsider the remarks he made at last year’s conference, and state them very differently.

[Note from ACFJ editors: we do not hold out much hope that the ACBC Conference on Abuse will be much good. We know Chris Moles is speaking there and we have some serious concerns about his approach to domestic abuse.]

But last month, Lambert announced that he was stepping down from the ACBC to focus on his role as senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, and that a new president will be officially installed at this year’s conference. The new president is Dale Johnson Jr., who earned his Ph.D in Biblical Counseling just three years ago from the seminary where he currently serves as a department professor – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – the seminary whose president is still, as of this writing, Paige Patterson.

This appointment might make the ACBC potentially appear to be positioning itself as the counseling wing of the SBC. But the reach of the ACBC extends far beyond the SBC, into numerous other denominations, and innumerable independent evangelical and Reformed congregations across the country.

That’s why I’m praying that Reformed and independent evangelical pastors and leaders don’t observe what’s being exposed within the SBC and think that this issue is confined there. It’s not. The women in those congregations, just like the women speaking up within the SBC, are praying that this harmful teaching, masked as biblical fidelity and compassionate shepherding, is eradicated, once and for all.

The safety and well-being of women, and children, quite literally depend on it.


Rachael Starke blogs at Thinkings of Things. Some of you may want to subscribe to her blog.

Related posts

Open letter from Southern Baptist men to the SWBTS Board of Trustees [Internet Archive link]. Heads up!  – All Southern Baptist men who share the views represented in the letter are invited to demonstrate that conviction by signing the letter.

If God put you together you’re not allowed to separate — says Dr. Heath Lambert, Executive Director of ACBC

Paige Patterson and a culture that breeds a generation of abusers – by Rebecca Davis

CBMW’s new Statement on Abuse still falls short

Shepherds Protect the Flock: Five Changes Pastors Need to Make in Addressing Abuse in the Church  – a guest post by an American pastor.


  1. Hello Sunshine

    He is reprehensible. It’s not only his leering at a passing 16 year old congregant, not only his defense of boys commenting aloud on her figure, but he was just itching for an opportunity to humiliate the woman who dared to argue with his sermon. The mother rebuked her son for his sexual objectification of women and Patterson triumphantly contradicted her in front of her child. How many times can he disrespect women in 2 minutes?

  2. Hello Sunshine

    His story of humiliating a woman who argued with his sermon is the same sort of menacing bravado all wrapped up in laughs was typical of my last two pastors. Ugh.

  3. Lost Song

    This is why I have left the church. There will be no improvement in a man-dominated system. Counsel I received was to separate, not divorce, and then, only remarry my now x husband. My pleas for help were acknowledged and dismissed. It is wearisome to continue hearing of precious souls that continue to be disregarded. How do you continue to fight this battle day after day without throwing in the towel?

    • How do you continue to fight this battle day after day without throwing in the towel?

      I can only speak from my own experience, but I continue to fight because God has put a fire in my belly. And I have learned to distinguish what people and institutions in the battle are worth focusing my energy on and what are now worth my time and energy. I always prioritise the voices and viewpoints of victims. I’m fortunate – very fortunate – to not be at ongoing risk from my abusers, and to not have to earn money for a living, and the medical system in Australia has universal coverage for all citizens so the nightmare of medical insurance and how it ties to one’s job in the USA doesn’t apply to me.

      And my child is now an adult so I don’t have to deal with visitation nightmares either.

      All this allows me to speak out publicly. But I know many do not have that luxury, or the wish to be as public in their activism as I am.

      I focus as much as I can on untangling the wrong doctrines which are holding the Pharisaic religion together. I expose them and show how and why they are wrong and what the Bible actually says instead.

      I also tackle the big names — like John Piper, Paige Patterson, Heath Lambert, Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware etc etc. And the big name institutions like ACBC, Focus on the Family, CCEF, Peacemakers, etc. I think that tackling the big names is important not least because those ‘names’ are known by many people in the church so it draws more readers when one names the well-knowns. For me (but I’m not saying this is true for others) the smaller fry pastors and churches are not worth putting a lot of energy into at this stage. As the big names get exposed and hopefully toppled, the smaller fry will read the writing on the wall and hopefully come out of the fog it they are not abusers themselves. The abusers are not going to change, I think. There may be exceptions, but the track record shows that they don’t change, they just dig in their heels, double down, ‘resign’ if the heat gets too hot and then rise like demonic phoenixes from the ashes to start a new ‘ministry’ somewhere else. Or they get old and die.

      To tackle the Pharisaic beliefs, one needs to have developed a good understanding of sound doctrine. And it is very helpful to know when to say firmly, “I don’t agree with you. You are wrong!”…and walk away. The evil ones like to entice us into circular debates and red herrings. Recognising their tactics and refusing to play their game is important.

      And the other part of all this, in my experience, is that as a survivor it helps to allow one’s grief to come up and weep, lament, mourn as needed. Going with that process – an ongoing and iterative process – helps one become a more empowered activist.

      • Seeing the Light

        I thank God for you, Barbara.

      • Anon

        I second that! So thankful for you, Barb!

  4. Loretta

    The Institutional Church Leaders of man-made, official organized Christendom, in my sincerely held belief & opinion, are biblical types (and continuations) of the Pharisees; the power-hungry, prideful, dominating, dangerous, abusive or merely loveless ‘snakes and scorpions’ of the gospel metaphors of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ warns the sheep of them and calls the sheep to come, and follow Him. This, the beautiful meaning of ekklesia (ecclesia); called out, and gathered unto Him.

    • 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.


      Spot on Loretta. And for those who don’t know, we have a whole series on The Religion of the Pharisees. It is based on Jeff Crippen’s sermon series of that name. 🙂

  5. Moving Forward

    Now Christians are asking a different version of that question all over again, about girls who grow up to be women who are being severely abused by their husbands, and go to their pastors for help.

    This is my question exactly. Abusive Christian leadership is a huge problem, but I believe it is eclipsed by the enormous tragedy of the thousands of women who receive such horrible advice from church leaders regarding their abusive marriages, as documented so excellently by this blog. How, in the hundreds of obscure town and city churches, do we get our voice heard? Due to safety concerns, care of the other people in church, etc. it is not wise to get too vocal. Besides, the news media isn’t going to care about nobodies. They want to write about denomination and organization leaders. But my heart wants to expose this because if it happens once in a church, it will happen again, and more women and children will be hurt. I agree with Loretta, these pastors and leaders are the Pharisees of our day.

  6. cindy burrell

    The trail of horrors revealed here is hard to stomach. I only wish that these incidents might be isolated, but as we have seen time and time again, they’re not isolated at all – and perhaps might be the norm. Dear God, how can it be that so many who have been elevated to leadership have wandered so far – or have willingly embraced the enemy’s lies – resulting in so much harm to so many innocents? The path of destruction just goes on and on.

    • Anon

      Those who are the least fit to rule are the most apt to lust after and get positions of power and control. Think about it — the most kind, considerate, generous, caring people one knows are not clamoring (the loudest or most aggressively — if at all) for positions where they can lord over others and yet those very same people would be the best leaders because they’d care and wouldn’t be tyrants. Same ol’ paradox.

      Those who shy away from positions of power and control are the ones who should rule as they are likely the most conscientious and responsible and they’d want to make sure they were doing an excellent job and not misusing their power, recognizing a great responsibility and duty of care is there in positions of power.

  7. Seeing the Light

    The Paige Patterson video is just too much for words. I can’t believe how much offensive material he can pack into under two minutes. The thought that someone like him could be preaching from the pulpit while ogling my teenage daughter, lauding it as biblical, and encouraging young men to do the same is disgusting.


  1. Harmful Counsel Harming Women Is A Church Problem – reblog by Rachael Starke | Speakingtruthinlove's Blog

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