Usually I write about the day-to-day happenings of my life, but occasionally something happens that vexes me. Usually it involves the topic of abuse. It feels like a sliver in my spirit and the best way I know to get it out is to write about it. However, it is always such a hugely immense topic with so many thoughts and sub-thoughts that I don’t know how to write about it. When I try, I feel inarticulate and inadequate. And even if I did write about it, I have found that the most common reaction is a total lack of understanding. It feels like an uphill battle that is impossible to fight and most of the time I just give up. But, still, sometimes I try because it’s very important.
Today I am trying.
Throughout this post I’ve often linked to articles that describe the concepts I’m trying to explain in more detail. Just click on the links to read more.
Recently someone on FB complained that some Christians were not forgiving him, wanted nothing to do with him, and were not giving him grace. Immediately, he was encouraged by some Christians who tut-tutted that they couldn’t understand how any Christian could be so unwilling to give grace. I wanted to ask (but didn’t), “Did it ever occur to you that those people you are condemning might have a very good reason for not wanting this guy in their lives? EJ and I know this person very well, and we know that he has taken advantage of the generosity of people who have tried to help him in the past (including us). He has lied, manipulated, used, defrauded, stolen from, and destroyed property. He talks about being a Christian but his life doesn’t reflect it. And even though he occasionally “apologizes” he hasn’t really changed.
Because of this incident, I want to talk about abusers and the church. Again. This is not Christian-bashing, by the way. I think that if any person, group, or organization is doing something wrong–including and especially the church–they need to honestly deal with it, not sweep it under the rug. It seems to me that people are reluctant to point out abusive behavior because 1. they are afraid of judging (I’ll address that in a bit) and 2. they are afraid it will reflect badly on Christ to bring things out into the open. However, covering up evil actually reflects more badly on Christ. Besides, I don’t think that everyone who calls himself a Christian, or every place that calls itself a church, actually is one. A true believer’s life will reflect Christ…but I don’t think it always looks like what many people think it does.
Even though Christians theologically and theoretically speak of evil people, few seem to actually believe that they exist in real life. I’ve found that if a victim speaks of an abuser, he is usually told by Christians that “no one is perfect,” “we all sin,” “don’t judge,” “he’s just wounded,” “we just need to give him grace,” and other such things. However, the Bible is filled with descriptions of both righteous and wicked people. That means that there are actually righteous and wicked people out there. Surprisingly, I’ve encountered more nonChristians who believe in the actual existence of evil people than Christians. Just talk to the average abuse survivor–they know.
It seems to me that we wouldn’t be given descriptions and warnings about wicked people if we couldn’t judge between the wicked and the righteous.The Bible warns against wicked people with such phrases as Be Alert! Be Aware! Watch out for! Avoid! Stay away from!
Which brings me to the topic of judging: I’m sure we have all suffered wrongly from people who were, in fact, self-righteous, arrogant, judgmental, condemning. That is a wrong type of judging which God says don’t do. However, people have become so afraid of judging wrongfully that they have, apparently, lost all discernment and common sense. The Bible never says that we can’t judge at all. (Again, if we can’t judge at all then why tell give us descriptions and warnings about the wicked?) Instead, the Bible tells us that we must be very careful to “judge righteously.” The “judge not” and “consider the log in your own eye” verses that so many fling around is actually addressed to the hypocrites who were ignoring their own evil to point out the small specks in the lives of the righteous. Evil people are now using these very verses that were directed at them as weapons to divert attention away from themselves and to accuse their victims.
Oh, and yes, hypocrites. Every so often memes like this one appear on my FB page:
This meme reveals an ignorance of what hypocrite actually means. A hypocrite is not a believer who honestly longs to follow God but who sometimes sins–and then genuinely repents. Those genuine but imperfect believers are, indeed, like the out-of-shape people who go to the gym in an effort to become healthier. Conversely, a hypocrite is someone who deliberately wears a mask, who intentionally pretends to be something he is not, who purposely seeks those whom he can devour. In other words, a hypocrite is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If a church has hypocrites in its midst, it has a very serious problem and it needs to address it before the flock is ripped apart and destroyed. A person who doesn’t want to attend a church filled with hypocrites is wise. He is the sheep who smells a wolf and runs.
An ex-police detective once told EJ that one of the favorite hunting grounds of predators (abusers, sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists, molestors, con men, etc.) are places like churches. Abuse experts say the same thing. The reason predators love churches is that they find people there who are willing to love unconditionally, to forgive without requiring repentance, and who are tolerant and reluctant to talk negatively about others or to judge. Love, forgiveness, and refraining from negative talk and wrongfully judging others are good things unless they are naively used to aid abusers. Christians can (and have) develop a gullible “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, judge no evil” mentality that makes them easy prey for the wolves and put the vulnerable at risk. There is no virtue in letting yourself become a predator’s victim or helping them oppress others.
Remember, we are warned in the Bible that evil people will disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” Peter said in 2 Peter 2: “But among the people there were also false prophets, just as there will be false teachers among you. Under false pretenses they will introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and thus bring on themselves swift destruction.” Let it sink in that these people appear to be very righteous people but they are false. Because of predators’ ability to appear righteous and their ability to remove opposition, they often rise to positions of leadership.
Abusers tend to “groom” their victims to accept abuse, which is a tactic of overcoming a person’s defenses by slowly desensitizing his or her natural reaction to abusive behaviors. A predator will identify and engage a victim and work to gain the target’s trust, break down defenses, and manipulate the victim until they get whatever it is they are after. I often wonder if the message of “cheap grace” has been taught by false teachers so that their flock will accept their abuse. If a Christian is taught not to judge, to never offend anyone, to forgive without requiring repentance, to accept all people without reservation no matter what they do, they lose the ability to see, recognize, or resist the wolves.
Pretending to be righteous is one tactic of a wicked abuser. Another tactic is to pretend to be the innocent victim to gain pity. An abuser will accuse the victim of judging him and of not showing him love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, submission, etc. He will insist that none of us are sinless and that God uses less than perfect people in His Kingdom. What is not acknowledged is that God used each of these people when they humbled themselves and REPENTED. God says He is opposed to the proud and arrogant and unrepentant. Pitying an evil person and giving him grace is just what he wants.
Even if pity [some Bible versions say “grace”] is shown to the wicked, he still doesn’t learn what righteousness is. In a land of uprightness he will still act wrongly and fail to see the majesty of Adonai.(Isa. 26:10)
Because of the abuser’s ability to appear righteous and/or the innocent victim, he can skillfully and deliberately manipulate people into supporting him against the victim. The niceness of the “nice people” actually becomes a tool that the abuser uses to oppress and enslave his victim. As Narcissists Suck has written, “It can be nearly impossible for a victim of a narcissist to press their claims when so-called good people form a protective ring around the evil-doer and divert the slings and arrows back to the victim. This behavior of the ‘good’ people actually guarantees the narcissist will continue to have access to his or her victim as well as access to new victims in the future. If that isn’t evil in itself, I do not know what is. If we do not exercise our frontal lobes, that is, our ability to judge between things, then we guarantee that evil will prosper in our presence.”
Many churches do not understand abuse. Many times their teachings actually supports and empowers the abuser and causes his violence against his victim(s) to increase, and even become life-threatening. (Click here to learn what a victim can expect in a typical church.) At the Cry for Justice website, one woman shared her experience about what happened when she tried to get help with her abusive husband. Her story is told here and is just one of many. Abuse victims often share their stories in the comments under the posts at this site.
It is appalling and very serious when a person or church sides with the abusers against victims. Psalms 82 says “How long will you go on judging unfairly, favoring the wicked? Give justice to the weak and fatherless! Uphold the rights of the wretched and poor! Rescue the destitute and needy; deliver them from the power of the wicked!” Psalms 97:10 says “Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” Ps. 11:5 says that “The one who loves violence His soul hates.”And Ps 12:6 says “Because the poor are oppressed, because the needy are groaning, I will now rise up,” says Adonai, “and grant security to those whom they scorn.” Ally yourself with an evil person and you put yourself in direct opposition to God.
Many times I see memes at Facebook that make the assumption that people who stop attending a church are leaving merely because of hurt feelings, or because their eyes are on men rather than God, or because they do not want to hear “The Truth.” I’m sure that is sometimes the case. However, I think it is arrogant and simplistic to assume that it is always the case. The Bible warns “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15). The Bible also says “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3). Finally, it says that the true sheep hear and follow the voice of the true Shepherd. (John 10:27) Did it occur to anyone that maybe the reason many people leave a church is not because they have hurt little feelings or are rejecting God or His truth, but because they do not hear the voice of the Shepherd in that place and they are fleeing the wolf-led flock? Maybe God is rescuing the sheep from the wolves by leading them away. Ezekiel 34 has this to say:
Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
We once attended a very small church. As time went on, alarm bells went off inside of me. The pastor was extremely controlling, uncaring of the needs of the congregation, and unethical. At first I ignored the niggly doubts about him, but they grew in number and intensity. When I told close friends about my concerns, they said things such as: “No pastor or church is perfect. We need to submit to and support church leaders. How do you know YOU aren’t the one with the problem…?” I struggled with this, but we ended up leaving. The advice from my friends made me question how a person could ever stand against false teachers if they were supposed to see not, hear not, speak not, judge not, and submit? People sometimes wonder why a victim remains in abuse, but is it so surprising when they receive advice like this? I remember when the cult leader Jim Jones led more than 900 of his followers into committing suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-aide. Jim Jones started out as a methodist minister. I have sometimes wondered how many of his followers had had doubts about him when his teaching first seemed “off,” and might have escaped, but were urged that no one is perfect and they needed to submit to their leader?
As for those who think that Christian grace and love means never offending and always keeping people in our lives no matter what they do. It is true that God has made us accepted, has drawn us near to Him, and made us part of His family and kingdom. However, these are promises given to those who become His children. These promises are not for the unrepentant. As Luke 17:5 Ministries says, “There is NOT ONE INSTANCE in Scripture of the Lord forgiving anyone who remains ‘stiff-necked’ (stubborn) and unrepentant.” In addition, when God became “the Word made Flesh” and walked among us, He actually offended more people than He attracted (John 6:66, etc).
Furthermore, the God who includes is also the God who separates. From the very beginning, He has separated light from dark, the water from the land, Israel from the nations, the righteous from the wicked, the sheep from the goats, etc. We are not unloving or unChristlike when we choose to separate from those who are wicked. To pressure victims to remain with the abusers who enslave and mistreat them is not following the God who declared that He loves the downtrodden and brokenhearted and that He came to set the prisoners free. In fact, we are told to rebuke and separate from evil people. Here are just a few of many verses:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you…2 Cor. 6:14-17
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers… (Ps 1:1)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Say to the congregation, Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. And he spoke to the congregation, saying,“Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. (read the whole story in Numbers 16)
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud,arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Tim 3:1-5)
Don’t make friends with an angry man, and don’t be a companion of a hot-tempered man. (Prov. 22:24)
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33)
“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and show him his fault — but privately, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation can be supported by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to hear them, tell the congregation; and if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector. (Matt 18:15-17) How were pagans and tax-collectors treated in Bible times? Click here: Ancient Tax Collectors.
If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4) [Repentance, by the way, doesn’t mean just saying, “I’m sorry.” repentance is turning away from the wrong behavior. It means genuine change.]
There are many, many verses about separating from the wicked. I could go on but you get the picture, I hope. We need to stop being naively deceived by appearances, we need to stop unquestioningly pitying the abusers, we need to stop allowing ourselves to be their tool.
This might seem to some as if I’m describing a God who is mean, and unforgiving, and merciless. I’m doing just the opposite. He is a God who cares deeply for the oppressed and He will defend them against the wicked.
I wish Christians would educate themselves on the topics of abuse, of good and evil, and the other things I’ve mentioned in this post. Two good places to start are the websites, A Cry for Justice and Narcissists Suck. Both address these subjects Biblically. As A Cry for Justice warns in its post She’s Marrying a Sociopath and There’s Nothing We Can Do to Stop it: “Churches, Christians, pastors, elders!! We must STOP closing our eyes to evil among us in our churches! We must be done with this foolish naiveté about wickedness. We must learn about sociopaths and psychopaths and narcissists and abusers and we must become expert — wise as serpents the Bible calls it — in discerning the tactics of these vermin. They are oppressing the sheep that the Lord has charged us with protecting.