Gathering this whole series (by Jeff Crippen) together for the reader’s convenience:
And that means abusers will take on the guise of being a Christian, very frequently of being an eminent Christian in a local church. He may be a pastor or elder himself. How can pastors effectively deal with these “hidden reefs” who creep in among us in the church?
First, and without doubt most importantly, pastors must take steps to correct their ignorance concerning the nature, mentality, tactics, and characteristics of this category of evil. The persistent, nagging deficit that is plaguing our churches is the pervasive lack of understanding of abuse.
Great harm and injustice are being effected upon victims of abuse at the hands of the very church families that should be the chief protector of the widow, the orphan, and the weak. Abusers are masters at using all kinds of deceptive means to gain allies to their side in their oppression of the victim and we have many documented case histories to support this conclusion.
Pastors become the ally of evil, all the while thinking they are standing for righteousness. Abusers are embraced as brethren in Christ while their victims are falsely accused and rejected. No true shepherd of Christ’s flock wants such travesty to continue. He will be willing to take steps to familiarize himself with the psychology and methods of abuse.
Pastors, like most other people, have a “default” reaction to abusers and their victims. No pastor should think himself to be immune from this default setting.
If a pastor remains ignorant regarding abuse, he and his church will surely engage the appallingly common chain of events which regularly deals injustice and suffering to abuse victims who come to their church for help.
The same pattern will simultaneously enable and support the abuser in the torment of his victims. The victim will not be believed when she tells her pastor about the abuse. The seriousness of the abuse will be minimized by the pastor.
The pastor will take superficial steps to “fix” the problem, such steps serving only to make the situation worse and even endanger the life and safety of the victim. And, in the end, it will be the victim who is driven from her church rather than the abuser.
This cycle of church abuse of abuse victims will engage unless pastors give themselves to arriving at a full understanding of the mentality, nature, and tactics of abuse….
After taking diligent steps to familiarize himself with abuse (see part 1 of this series for suggested resources) the next thing a pastor must do — and in many ways perhaps the most important of all — is to believe the victim when she comes reporting the abuse.
This will sound unwise to the untrained ear. After all, doesn’t every tale have two sides? Shouldn’t the other half of this marriage be consulted before a judgment is made?
While that approach may be true in other kinds of conflicts, it is most certainly not true in the case of abuse. Once a pastor educates himself about abuse, he will be able to identify common characteristics of abuse as the victim tells her story.
While abusers have quite an arsenal of tactics, that arsenal is really quite consistent. Playing the victim, distorting history, instilling fear, utilizing a Jekyll-Hyde facade, sexual abuse, economic abuse, isolating the victim from family and friends are just a few of the weapons abusers typically use to shore up their reign.
A pastor can in fact become familiar with these tactics and learn to recognize them as a victim reports her plight. These reports are worthy of our belief.
Abuse victims do not readily report their abuser, especially if the victim is a Christian and functioning within a church setting. There is a huge amount of fear and trepidation on the part of such victims, and therefore pastors must realize that by the time the victim comes to him for help, she has resolved to take a very big and risky step. Will anyone believe her? What if her abuser finds out?
(One commenter notes that a church does have the legal right to ban a person from its premises, that if the church owns the building, it’s private property.)
In summary, the pastor’s duty to the abuser is secondary to his duty to the victim. Regarding the abuser, the pastor must 1) Be able to avoid being deceived by the abuser’s ploys, and 2) exclude the abuser from the congregation in order to protect the victim and the flock. All of these actions will be costly.
It would take an entire book to refute the errors of this booklet. It is hard to imagine another such book I have read that more perfectly exemplifies all the things that are wrong in the evangelical church when it comes to dealing with abusers and abuse victims in its midst.
If any pastor desires to learn what NOT to say or do when an abuse victim comes to him, I think Priolo’s work would be the place to go. Is that being to harsh on Mr. Priolo? I think not.
Because as is so typical of nouthetic counselors, may God have mercy on the abuse victim who goes to such a counselor, because that counselor certainly will show them none.
Prevention is better than cure. This applies to abuse within the church as well as to our physical health. It is better for us to create an environment in our churches that is alien and hostile to evil. A place where righteousness and truth reign to a degree that evil just has to leave because it is exposed.
The question is, why aren’t our churches such places? And apparently it is not exaggerating to say that they are not because victims of abuse come with the same stories over and over about how their abuser was able to hide, was able to gain allies, was able to be enabled within a local church. What has gone wrong?
(One commenter even discusses a behavioral contract given to her abusive husband.)
When it comes to dealing with abusers, pastors must grow up and be wise! We must be innocent of evil and yet as wise as serpents in regard to it.
Abusers are not like other sinners. Oh yes, it is possible that we could come across a man or woman who, out of ignorance, is not treating their spouse well. But such a person will be quickly and rather easily corrected through biblical rebuke and instruction.
Not so the abuser. Abusers, remember, are people who have a fundamental mindset of entitlement to power and control. They are the very center of their universe and they deem themselves fully justified in using whatever means necessary against their victims to control those victims.
Such a person is often a full-blown sociopath. He has no conscience and no ability to feel empathy for others.
If you approach such an individual in “love,” thinking that if you just paint them a clear enough picture of the harm they are doing to others that they will be heartbroken and repent, then you are going to fail. They have no heart, you see, to be broken! They are, in fact, evil….
Listen to these great words from Jan Silvious, author of Fool-Proofing Your Life:
The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome with these instructions: Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Romans 12:14-18, NASB)
Peace with everyone surely is the goal for us as believers. But it is not always possible. When you encounter a situation that has a one-sided peace, then living with the fallout can leave you exhausted and bewildered.
Over the years I have spent many hours “riding the ambulance” with too many people who have been wounded (and sometimes “left for dead”) by someone they loved or were tied to through blood.
I have seen too many people locked in a grid of fright, guilt, and anger because of the “shoulds” and the “oughts” that have been used as weapons to force them into an uneasy peace.
I have seen many of them turn to the church or to well-meaning, believing friends or relatives only to experience a total lack of understanding of what they are going through as they try to relate to a person who abhors peace.
So often, the person who is doing the “trying” is the one who is blamed if peace doesn’t work. This ought not to be!
Well over fifteen years ago I began to see patterns in the people who crossed my path as I spoke around the country and as I worked in a counseling office. Their symptoms were the same, and the “methods” used by their difficult person were the same.
In each instance, with very little deviation, I saw a person who wanted a decent relationship living as a hostage of someone who was unwilling to take personal responsibility for his or her actions.
I was amazed to note that it did not matter whether the hostage-taker was a mother, a husband, a child, a sister, a friend, or a boss; the behavior was the same, and the results were the same. One person held control and through open rage, passive anger, oily manipulation, or sullen silence stubbornly refused to release his grip.
In the church, unrepentant sin is to be pronounced from the rooftops, in the hearing of the entire church. It is to be exposed and dealt with openly, so that those who profess Christ’s name yet cause that Name to be blasphemed by unbelievers are expelled from the body of Christ, and Christ’s Name thereby is once more honored.
If a pastor is going to deal biblically and righteously with an abuser who is a member of his church, that pastor must resolve to do so in openness and in truth.
There can be no cover up, no minimization of the evil, no political maneuvering designed to save face or cover anyone’s tail end. The evil must be exposed for all to see, and the unrepentant evil one delivered over to the realm of darkness, outside the church, in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you begin to see the point? The pastor has invested emotionally, socially, financially, and in other ways in his church and ministry. He has invested in this family, and often in the life of the abuser himself. The abuser might be an elder or deacon or some other key figure in the church.
So the victim’s report sounds a dissonant chord in the pastor’s mind. His temptation is going to be to change his thinking to some theory that will justify the abuser and support his long-held notion that the abuser is really who the pastor has assumed him to be. The pastor will do this rather than believe the shocking and threatening alternative: the victim’s account.
The large majority of the readers of this blog do not need to be told that a false gospel, gutted of a call to genuine faith and repentance, is the abuser’s great ally. This “gospel,” which the Apostle Paul says is no gospel at all (Galatians 1), only produces nominal Christians, meaning that they are Christian in name only.
Survivor after survivor will tell their stories of how their abuser hides in the pews, playing the role of “Christian” and enjoying the affirmation of his fellow church members. Where a false gospel is preached, false Christians are produced, and an environment that is ripe for the practice of evil is cultivated.
Sadly, we must admit that such a false gospel is widely preached in our churches today, as it has been for decades now.
Pastors and men: it is time we take to heart that our Lord calls upon us to effect justice and mercy. When we are confronted with a victim of evil, then we are to be the Good Samaritan whether the bandits who beat up the victim like it or not. This is what real pastors do. It is what real men do.