As a pastor, what are the most important things for me to know about domestic abuse?

Neutrality is not neutral 

There is No Neutrality, No “Innocent” Bystander When We See Abuse

Red Flags: Victims experiencing any of these risk factors are at an increased risk of being killed or almost killed

Domestic Abuse is the Test Case for Our Theology (and we are failing)

Domestic Violence and Abuse — Sermons by Ps Jeff Crippen.

Wise as Serpents — Sermons by Ps Jeff Crippen, on how we must be wise to evil and the ways of evildoers.

Letter from a Pastor to Pastors — By Ps Jeff Crippen.

Why an abuser cannot be a Christian

Has the victim been choked or strangled?

Professionals, the public and victims are misinformed about strangulation. Most victims of strangulation will not have visible external injuries. Do ask the victim if her partner has choked or strangled her. She may not tell you unless you ask.

Fatal strangulation can occur without any external evidence of violence on the human body. The victim may die hours, days or months after the strangulation event. Non-fatal strangulation can have serious and long-term health consequences including brain damage. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) can detect internal injuries. Encourage the victim who has been strangled to obtain an MRI. A woman who survives one strangulation even is 700% more likely to be strangled again and 800% more likely to be killed later.

This info comes from Strangulation: Detection & Investigation by Brian Bennett, South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.

If a woman discloses that her husband is mistreating her in any way….

Even if what she reports to you sounds to you like it is “not all that bad,” please don’t discount what she’s told you.

  • Speak kindly to her.
  • Don’t lecture her.
  • Don’t launch into “teaching” her.
  • Don’t assume you know what she needs to be told.

Ask her if she is willing to give you more detail about what her husband is doing. “Can you tell me more about that?”

Tell her you will not speak to him about any of it, unless she gives you her explicit permission. And even if she does give you permission to talk to her husband about it, it may not be safe for you to do so unless she is completely safe from his possible retaliation. The both of you may need to learn about safety planning first.

Domestic Violence Disclosure Flow Chart

The most important things to say to victims.

  • It’s not your fault. You are not to blame.
  • Your safety is important. How can I help you be safe from oppression and mistreatment?

What not to do.

Male victims?

Yes, we know that men are sometimes victims of domestic abuse, see our tag for male survivors. But unfortunately for the men who have genuinely suffered domestic abuse, many male abusers portray themselves as victims. Some of the links below will give you tips for sorting out genuine victims from those who are faking victimhood.

If a man says he is in shock because his wife just left him, it is possible he is an abuser. If the man says “I’m in shock because my wife just said the marriage is over.”, the statement is not enough to indicate he is an abuser. In conjunction with other indicators, it might suggest that the man is an abuser.

If a man says “I’m in shock because my wife just said the marriage is finished.”, it is possible that the wife had been committing adultery and had been very carefully concealing it from him. But if the wife had been cheating, clear evidence or admission of that is not likely to come out until after the separation.

And bear in mind that in some cases of adultery, the non-adulterous spouse may in fact have been an abuser, and the adulterous spouse (the abuse victim) has responded sinfully by having an affair. In that scenario, the adulterous spouse, if truly a believer, will eventually confess the adultery as a sin. And it was not primarily the adultery that caused the marriage breakdown, it was the abuse.

An abused wife will have been asking her husband to stop mistreating her for a very long time….to no avail. If a deserted husband claims he had no idea the marriage was on the rocks, he may be lying and trying to gain your sympathy by playing the “pity card”.

Gender and DV — the key facts

Marks of a pretend victim versus a true victim

The language of abusers who portray themselves as victims — Vagueness & Contradictions

How to Spot an Abuser Who Claims to be the Victim

A Godly Abuser? Really?

Most pastors have not been adequately trained in domestic abuse….

…so if you’ve made mistakes in the past, you are not alone!

You Weren’t There — a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse

How a Pastor and His Wife’s Eyes Were Opened to Abuse

Traditions of Men Have Largely Consumed the Evangelical Church and are Causing Widespread Suffering

Ps Sam Powell explains how the dynamics of domestic abuse are not taught in seminaries.

How Seminary Training Can Easily Produce Gnat Strainers and Camel Swallowers

Non-Negotiables for Effective and Biblical Abuse Ministry

Attitudes that Promote Abuse in the Church: Major System Flush Needed

The Method of Interpreting Scripture in the Conservative Evangelical Church Needs a Reboot

The Most Common Reason Churches Enable Abusers and Oppress Victims

How Wayne Grudem fits his ideas on authority / submission with his thoughts on domestic abuse

Don Hennessy Digest

Shepherds Protect the Flock: Five Changes Pastors Need to Make in Addressing Abuse in the Church

Exposing Evil — and the fear of doing so.

If You Refuse to See the Ugliness of Evil, You will be the Ally of Evil

What Does Evil Look Like?

Peer Pressure Among Pastors Tends toward Silence About Abuse

The Apostle John Provides us a Model of How to Address an Abuser in Church

Getting Gossip Wrong Will Silence Voices Exposing Evil

The Holy Spirit Calls us to Expose Evil — People Tell us to be Quiet About it

“Never Say Anything Critical of One of Your Own” — Wrong!

This is What Enables Evil to Hide in Our Churches

When We Enable Abusers in the Church We are Guilty of Breaking the Third Commandment

Don’t be fooled by false repentance

If the abuser shows signs of repentance, what should pastors do? And what if there is no repentance?

Don’t Fall for the Abuser’s Repentance: Lessons from Zacchaeus

God only did one counseling session with Cain

Church Discipline.

God’s Rules of Evidence are Often Misapplied, to the Harm of Abuse Victims

How Abusers Use (Mis-use) Matthew 18 to Escape Church Discipline

Church discipline and church permission for divorce — how my mind has changed — By Barbara Roberts, author of Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion [Affiliate link].

David Instone-Brewer, The Westminster Confession, and Judging Divorce

Pastoral Care Has its Limits and Must Allow for the Priesthood of the Believer


UPDATE  Sept 2021: I, Barbara Roberts, 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.

12 thoughts on “As a pastor, what are the most important things for me to know about domestic abuse?”

  1. You said,

    An abused wife will have been asking her husband to stop mistreating her for a very long time….to no avail.

    This is not true in my experience at all. I left an abusive 20 year marriage and it wasn’t until the very end, when I started going to counseling, that I realized I had been abused. I thought I deserved the put downs and derision, the control and spying, I was so confused by the gaslighting that I honestly believed it was normal to have a spouse spy with cameras, snoop on the computer and phone, approve all clothing purchases, demand sex, have complete control over the money, etc. I tried numerous times to express my hurt at comments he made, but had my hurt flung back in my face and told I was too sensitive and controlling.

    Now, I am a mentor for women leaving abusive marriages and I’ve found that my silence at the face of abuse is a common occurrence. Most women either don’t recognize the abuse, are living in a fog of gaslighting and can’t see it, or are too afraid to speak up.

    1. Kathy,

      I was also one who left a 20+ year marriage and it wasn’t until I left that I came to understand my marriage as abusive. And while I couldn’t identify what was going on in my marriage as abuse I knew something was off – something wasn’t right. The fog of abuse can be very thick and coming out of that fog often occurs slowly.

  2. Great information here. I appreciate your thoughts on strangulation. Very helpful.
    One of the most deadly sins of pastors is arrogance. We just don’t listen as we ought. May the Lord forgive us and teach us to close our mouths and listen. We might just learn something.

  3. Thank you for assembling all of this – all these links! What a collection of wisdom! No wonder this is the place I found clarity after leaving him. Nowhere else had I ever found such information that finally rang true to what I was experiencing.

    My “biblical counselors” just made me confess to all my “sins” (things I might have done to make him mad; things I might have done to “make” him abuse me)…out loud…to them… Then they smiled at me and asked if now didn’t I feel better. But I was even more miserable! I wept and wept. They rubbed my back and said I should let it all out. But I wasn’t crying for repentance sake. I was heartbroken over how they were repeating and piling on more abuse! Acting just like him! Telling me everything was all my fault! And then acting all nice and sweet when I was broken and bleeding inside but trying to crawl through their hoops. And then they told me I also had to make a list of church people who had re-traumatized me (but not to include my counselors who were making me write the list!) after I finally asked for help. I had to name them all in front of the counselors and “chant” how I forgave each one. Sweet smiles. I could hear the meaning… “Good doggie! Good girl! Here’s a treat and a petting!”

    My point is – when I found this blessed site, I tried to show them all what true wisdom looked like:
    1) There are real, very bad guys close by – not just “over there” or “out there” somewhere.
    2) They are in your church, right now.
    3) Not everyone who says he’s a Christian, not everyone who prays pretty prayers, not everyone who teaches Bible lessons, not every group leader, not every BFF of the pastors, not every pastor – is a true Christian. Bad guys lie.
    4) Real bad guys are really hurting and destroying your sisters, and brothers, in Christ, and their children. Right now.
    5) Christ cares about the wounded, not the wounders.
    6) God hates sin, yes. But He hates the reviler, the abuser, the defiant, the arrogant wolf who enjoys the destruction he brings; He does not hate His hurting child for the sins He’s already paid for.
    7) The church should be more interested in binding the wounds of the bleeding sheep who are crying in front of them, and not hunting down the derisively laughing wolf to try to make him a “trophy” of “grace.”
    8) The wolves must be thrown out of the flock as soon as they are revealed, and, if there’s cause, they must be handed over to the law for real consequences.

    I gave them article after article. You have provided so much good information.

    You must know what happened next. They cast aspersions on the good work here. They derided the wisdom I had found. They sneered at the efforts to try to make them see. They complained about the “anger” you showed toward the abusers and their sin. And most of all, it was all done with a smile and a patronizing giggle as they set the articles aside. The idea? Now that I’ve had my little tantrum, fueled by obviously “damaged, bitter” people on some “angry” blog I had wandered into — we could now get back to the business of “sloppy agape” forgiveness (without any signs of repentance), “confession”, “submission”, “reconciliation”, and packing me and my kids off to go back to be abused again.

    So, thank you for your wisdom. Thank for caring deeply about justice. Thank you for really, truly caring for the hurting. Thank you for the amazing clarity that I’ve found here, in spades! Thank you for your passion. And honestly? Thank you for your anger! That seemingly small thing right there helped so much! Because up until I connected here…no one had ever even said that they felt bad for what had been done to us. They were all so much more interested in finding reasons to justify him or explain him or to make it seem that I had overreacted…again… They were all more interested in reaching out to him, throwing us to the side of the road in the process. So to have that first person be angry for what had happened to us? It was a window of heaven opening.

    Keep being “angry”! We need it!

  4. Good Morning – I have been a loyal reader of your blog for quite awhile now. I had no where else to turn to learn and understand what had happened to me except the internet. I thank the One True God everyday that He taught me discernment as the rabbit holes one can go down are way too numerous.

    You speak God’s Truth here and that is rare indeed. More than a year ago I had to go no contact with a man I had married only a few years earlier and fled my church and all the other churches I had gone to for help. I kept trying to work out life with an evil man uses [using?] my own and others resources. I ended up unable to tell the truth from a lie, unable to put together two cohesive thoughts and everyone, truly everyone, told me it was my responsibility in one form or another to fix it.

    The very moment I fell to the floor and cried out with every cell of my being to be rescued by my Warrior Savior – weeks of calling morning and night for a shelter opening – within moments He sent me to a beautiful home / shelter far from where I lived and His Grace brought me to an apartment where I lived with no phone, no internet, no family, no friend, no church – just me and His Word and my anger and shattered heart and soul.

    I guarantee anyone that His Word is absolutely true and He will rebuild you and wrap you in His lovingkindness as He shows you His Truth of your life. There is so much more going on just under the surface and the church in [name of state edited for safety] is so far behind and full of the doctrines of men that it is rendered laughable by secular standards.

    God is calling his people out and we are coming from all kinds of places. This current church has no clue what to do except love each in only politically correct ways. I think the refusal to preach, teach or even read the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ in modern churches left America with a lopsided truth of who Jesus really is….a lopsided truth is still a lie. No one fights, they just look the other way and blame the victim. Spiritual warfare is becoming fierce and no one cares. If you do, then you are [deemed to be] full of sin and not a true Christian.

    My abuser started large, successful groups of Celebrate Recovery all over the area – many mega churches. And oh how they loved the smoke and mirrors this man produced.

    I came to believe in Jesus of Nazareth at [missing location?] in my middle age, several years ago. I was raised Roman Catholic, turned to New Age and practiced [occult practices]. I never told a soul due to the shame I felt would follow me. I raised my beautiful daughters alone and divorced, earned a good living. I knew of evil and taught my girls how to stay away. As soon as I become involved in Christianity I think I am safe. Marry a wolf and get devoured before their very eyes and I am the one with the issue and need repentance. WOW – I guess I need to find someone to talk to, I had no intention of writing all this.

    Thank you for being a safe and Biblical place.

    1. HisWordIsTruth,

      Welcome to the blog! Very encouraged to hear that you have found help and answers here!

      Thank you for commenting and sharing your story! You will notice that I changed your screen name to protect your identity. If you want a different screen name just contact me at and I can change it for you.

      We like to encourage new commenters to check out our New Users’ Info page (if you haven’t already) as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, you may like to look at our FAQ page.

      Again Welcome!!

  5. I can give you a few things off the top of my head. NEVER blame the victim. Do not encourage them to stay thinking things will get better with hope and prayer. It’s obviously the abuser’s problem as to why the victim is leaving. It takes a lot for the victim to speak up so please be kind, patient, and understanding. Listen, more than speak. Put yourself in the victim’s shoes, what would you do? Above all help the victim kick the abuser out of the victim’s life.

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