Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

The Abuser's Evil Demands for Forgiveness

Another common and wicked tactic of the “Christian” abuser is his insistence, on supposed biblical grounds, that his victim continually forgive him and love him.  Anyone who knows much at all about the nature of abuse will realize that abuse occurs in a cyclical manner which involves several stages.  The stage that comes right after the big blowup stage is commonly called the “honeymoon stage.” During this time, which can be short or long, the abuser can appear to be contrite, remorseful and even very kind.  He expresses remorse over what he has done and promises it will never happen again. He makes promises that he’ll change, that this time all will be different. He might buy presents for his victim, fulfill a few past promises made to her or even appear to take an interest in spiritual things. His promises are all nonsense, of course. In fact, because his supposed sorrow and repentance is FALSE (he even has himself deceived about it), the cycle WILL repeat itself.  After all, that is the nature of a “cycle,” right?

When the abuser “repents,” he always includes more or less flagrant demands that the victim needs to forgive him.  He will often throw in a couple of “false guilt/blaming” missiles about how his abuse was caused at least in part by the victim.  None of this is true repentance.  In fact, this is abuse itself.  The honeymoon period is within the cycle of abuse and is just another aspect of the abuse.  It contributes to the confusion of the victim and works to strengthen the abuser’s control over her.
Often the abuser will quote Scriptures that seem to support his demand that his victim forgive and love him.  Some of the commonly used ones are these:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (22) Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven…. Matthew 18:21-22
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. Matthew 18:35

The abuser will distort these verses in this way, “Jesus says that even if I sin again and again and again against you, you are required to forgive me whenever I ask you to.”  
Of course, as we have just discussed, the abuser is NOT repentant.  He may say he is, but he is not.  Nevertheless, he insists that because he has said he is sorry, his victim is required by God to forgive him. By saying thus, he is twisting Jesus’ words. WE CAN PROVE THAT JESUS’ WORDS ASSUME THAT THE OFFENDER IS REPENTANT, when He tells us to forgive even seventy times seven.  Here is the proof –

  1. Jesus intentionally calls the offender our “brother.”  So He is speaking about a scenario in which one Christian sins against another Christian.  Genuine Christians repent. Abusers do not.  Yes, we can forgive our enemies even if they do not repent but only in respect to not taking personal vengeance upon them. We cannot forgive unrepentant people judicially (pronounce their sin forgiven) because not even God will or can do that. Nor does forgiveness require reconciliation of relationship in every single case.
  2. An even clearer proof that we are NOT required to forgive the abuser even if he persists in his abuse time after time, comes from the context of Matthew 18.  If we go back to verse 15, here is what we find –

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (16) But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (17) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (18) Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (19) Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (20) For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:15-20

If he refuses to listen, tell the church. (That’s not gossip or slander, by the way).  And if he won’t listen to the church, he is to be put out of the church.  That is what we call ex-communication.  Does that sound like forgiving “seventy times seven” in the way that the abuser insists we forgive him just because he says he is sorry?  No way.  Abusers “refuse to listen” and the evidence of their unrepentance is that they keep on sinning seventy times seven!  But their repentance is false.  They do not “listen” when they are confronted.
The abuse victim is NOT required to forgive and reconcile with her abuser just because he says he is sorry.  His continued pattern of evil demonstrates that his “root” is evil.  In other words, he may be a man who says he loves God, but because he hates his victim, he is a liar.  He is not a Christian.  He is, in reality, the victim’s ENEMY.
How then, do we deal with an enemy?  Abusers might do some Scripture quoting in this regard as well.  Jesus said we are to love even our enemies – so surely victims must love their abuser, right?  Once more, the abuser shows he is of his father the devil in that he perverts the Word of God to his own evil ends.  Here is what the New Testament says (and the Old Testament as well) –

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (44) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47) And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (48) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. (18) If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (19) Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (20) To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:17-21 [See Proverbs 25:21-22]

Let’s see if we can summarize what these verses are teaching us.

  1. Enemy, neighbor, brother – these are not interchangeable terms.  Love for our enemy is NOT going to look quite the same as love for our brother in Christ.  We are not going to be reconciled and have an ongoing relationship with our enemy!  If we could, he would not be our enemy!   Our neighbor, as Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is anyone – especially if they are in need – but that isn’t calling us to an on-going, intimate, relationship with those who abuse us.
  2. Loving our enemy means, a) not taking vengeance upon him, and b) doing good to him such as feeding him if he is hungry.  We don’t render evil to him as he has done to us. We do good to him.  We can greet him and not curse him.  But this does not mean reconciliation has occurred!  He  is still our enemy, unless he repents.  Therefore our relationship with him will be quite different than our relationship with our brother in Christ.

We must be very wise then when it comes to speaking of loving and forgiving the abuser.  The abuse victim is being the most loving toward her abuser (and her children) when she refuses to tolerate his evil any longer.  While Christ does require us to forgive, that forgiveness in its essence means not hating nor seeking vengeance, but leaving vengeance to the Lord.  It does not necessarily include the maintaining of a relationship or marriage to the abuser.


Some More Thoughts on Wrong Thinking About Forgiveness


The Abuser Wants You to Make Much of Them — Sermon by Ps Jeff Crippen


  1. Deb

    This is so helpful and echoes Pastor Sam Powell’s sermon on Psalm 129. With regard to “vengeance”, I feel that victims need to understand that it is not vengeful to use the authorities God has placed us under to bring charges against their abusers.

    • Debby

      My abuser was an expert scripture twister, Professional Level. I remember when this concept you speak of starting making some inroads into my cloud of confusion. Abusers love to speak with general, ethereal verbiage. To combat this, (I believe) God have me these inspired phrases: for example, he would say “why can’t you forgive me?” For years, I was immediately overcome with remorse and guilt (OH MY GOD! He thinks I’m not FORGIVING!!) and my tone would soften and I’d move TOWARDS him to “assure and comfort him” that I had, indeed, forgiven him. Which then led to him hugging me, which then led to him wanting everything to be fine (= sex) yet nothing had been…resolved. But finally, instead of ME proving I had forgiven, I started asking questions that forced HIM to prove I WASN’T. “What gives you the idea that I HAVENT forgiven you? What actions do you expect to see from me to show I have forgiven you? What does forgiveness look like? Mean to you?” And he would twist on the end of that stick trying very hard to NOT say “back in our bed” which was the end goal. He would start with “show kindness,” “What does that look like? I’m being kind to you right now.”) “Be affectionate.” (“Forgiveness does not mean automatic reconciliation.”) Then he would get angry and just blindly say “you’re not forgiving me!” But he could never say what that looked like without bringing in actions that were reconciliation. It was very empowering. God must WEEP when he sees the beauty of forgiveness (that HE made possible through His own sacrifice!!!) being USED by manipulators to get what they want. I’ll leave them to Gods Perfect Justice, but I’m not fellowshipping with them.

  2. Norma

    It is interesting how I could see this cycle more clearly once I was no longer in it. An unrepentant person fails to see or acknowledge the harm they’ve caused. The victim waits and waits for this but usually to no avail. True repentance is life-giving and restorative.

  3. All of this makes sense, but there is one aspect with which I continue to struggle. When dealing with an abuser, is it feasible to attempt to bring in witnesses to confront him, particularly if the only witnesses are the abuser’s wife and children? And what happens after such an encounter? For me, that’s a scary thought. What are your thoughts?

    • Jeff Crippen

      No. That would be a mistake in my opinion. Same error really as couple’s counseling. And after all what would be the point? He is going to insist on being right no matter how many witnesses. Matthew 18 doesn’t apply here. 1 Cor 5 does.

  4. cindy burrell

    Thank you for the clarification. That’s the way I have always been inclined to see it, too.

  5. MeganC

    Posted on GHW.

  6. Z

    I struggle with the command to “love” my abusers. And to “pray blessings on them-my enemies”.
    The abusers are both my parents, who brutally physically, sexually, verbally, emotionally and spiritually abused me all my childhood. (They were & still are professing “Christians”.)
    As an adult, after leaving home & getting (good) individual counseling, I learned “tools” to keep them at a physical & emotional distance. I separated from them with little to no contact, firm boundaries, etc.. and later “became one” with my supportive godly husband of many years.
    However, my parents continued their abuses whenever they could. No longer able to physically abuse me, they verbally & phychologically abused me as well as my husband. I kept setting & keeping boundaries & consequences of “No Contact”, sometimes for a year at a time. Then the crocodile tears, begging, fake apologies..guilting me into forgiving them. AGAIN & AGAIN.
    I thought as a “real Christian”, I had to keep forgiving. But I still kept very firm boundaries & had many more instances of separations, minimal to no contact. (I know this boundary-setting is what made them hate me & abuse me MORE! And it finally recently led to a violent attack on me and my husband, after one rare short visit. We called police & instituted full & permanent “No Contact” with these criminals.
    So I thank you for your explanation of the “forgiveness” Scriptures that were twisted to keep me in bondage.
    But loving them? And the other Scripture which adds that we are to “pray blessings on them”?
    I can forgive, I have turned them fully over to God’s vengeance. I don’t hate them. I don’t even think of them.
    I can pray for the “blessing” of their coming to repentance, so they don’t go to hell, as they are headed there if they don’t repent. But that’s as far as I emotionally can go.
    I can’t make myself love them or pray that “blessings and good things happen for them”!
    Am I disobedient to God because of this? My desire to “obey God” by forgiving them over and over and over in the past is what got me to be in a position for them to have that final access to me and use it to violently attack me in revenge for my boundaries & consequences on them.
    Any thoughts to help me be clear of ANY wrongdoing on my part in God’s eyes?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Read the Psalms. Check out how many of them are prayers for the Lord to destroy the wicked oppressors of the Psalmist. Those are the prayers I pray “for” abusers.

      • Z

        Yes. Thank you. I’ve also been praying those same Psalms daily. But I’ve felt a bit “guilty” at times. (Due to more twisted doctrine from codependent, dysfunctional, abuse-enabling, false teachers/ministers in my extended family who knew about my child abuse & did nothing but cover it up-No Contact with those wolves either!)
        Then I realized the Word of God is written by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Every word is there to teach & edify us.
        I just wanted to check with a Pastor such as you, who “gets it”, to be sure praying those Psalms “qualifies” as praying for my enemies-although none are “blessings”-nor should they be, it would seem according to those Psalms!
        And right now I believe even God doesn’t love reprobates who He gives over to their depravity. They refuse to repent & live in Jesus’ Righteousness. So I don’t feel the need to feel love for them. Pity, yes.
        Thanks Pastor Crippen!

        • Jeff Crippen

          Z- This Wednesday’s post is on the subject you are asking about. I think it will help you as well.

        • Aimee

          I am so grateful for this website. It helps me stay strong. All around are Christians who think forgiveness is the answer, as if naively they think a ‘happy ending’ is possible. Meanwhile my spouse (I am not divorced yet) gathers support wherever he can. I feel I am the silenced one. I don’t feel I have a voice. And then I ask myself: ‘How can I help others going through this sort of trauma?’
          But my thoughts about my abusive mother have changed. I visit her in her care home. (Moreover, if I don’t visit she sometimes causes difficulties for the staff!) This is an emotional battle for me as the painful memories are still there and I have to guard myself.
          I am grateful to read all these other courageous testimonies.

          • Yulya Sevelova

            Wow ! So if you refuse to visit your abusive mother at the facility she lives in, she uses a kind of blackmail,where she attacks the staff until you must show up ?? Ooff,that’s just terrible! She certainly needs therapy to deal with her anger, it sounds like you’ve been the scapegoat in the family,and not being able to mistreat you is frustrating for her. They get so mad when they can’t dominate and abuse the way they could when you were a minor. When my own mother died, I was very sad at first, I missed having A MOTHER ,not my mother herself. If you decide to not see your mother,who sounds like a narcissist, it may be time to drop the visiting. Only go if you actually want to – don’t let others ” guilt” you into submitting to further abuse. We have to forgive,but we don’t have to be around the abusers.

    • Karen

      To me, it sounds that you have prayed for them. What better blessing could you pray for a person that they be truly saved? If that isn’t praying FOR your enemies, what is? May God bless you and heal your heart. 💛

      • Z

        Hi Karen,
        I appreciate your wise and kind words. After reading this post by Pastor Crippen and his replies to me, I’ve been much more settled in my spirit that I am being obedient to God. I am no longer allowing twisted Scriptures by false teachers to make me feel I’m not doing “enough” of the “right kind of praying” for these vile, reprobates who are still doing evil to me, still trying to torment me (via their “flying monkey” minions, as I have a permanent No Contact Order on them).
        And I agree with you that praying for the blessing of their (unlikely) coming to repentance and receiving the gift of salvation was the best prayer I could have said and the best blessing. They’ve been claiming to be “real christians” all their criminal, perverted, abusive lives. Not likely that “act” and their lives of lies will change. To be honest, I only prayed for them out of obedience to God. My flesh didn’t want to even utter their names! Much less pray blessing on them! But I did it. And then I turned them over to God to deal with in His way. I will allow Him to get vengeance for me according to what they have done to me. And I don’t keep praying for them. Now I pray the Psalms that ask for God to avenge enemies. To bring about justice. I know where they are going if they don’t repent, which is the likely scenario. They will follow their doomed master-satan-into the fiery lake forever. And I will be taken into the loving arms of Jesus, Who will Himself gently wipe away every tear from my face. God will do what His Word says He will do. I’m good with that.

    • Yulya Sevelova

      Z, your dysfunctional parents,who sound like total, malignant narcissists, broke the law when they came over to your house,and harassed/ attacked you and your husband. That’s stalking and assault ! They could be prosecuted for that, if you want to go there. I would get a RO( Restraining Order) filed, if you haven’t already done that. Document everything they’ve said and done. If possible, look into moving where they can’t find you. I find it incredible that anyone who calls themselves Christian can even think to do the things they have done to you,and still try to do more !! So they belong to some weird religious cult, or a church ruled by a dominating, cultish pastor,who says one can indulge those crazy impulses they’ve had? The law can help with this, just so you know.

      • Z

        Thank you, Yulya, for your kind comments. We did use the law immediately to try to hold these sociopaths/psychopaths accountable for the first time in their lives-all the “Christians” in their cult/clan accepted and embraced their known abuses.
        But to our great disappointment, the police were ignorant of domestic/family abuse and were also lazy and incompetent and did what was easiest for them. They charged both the clear attacker in a one-sided ambush weapon attack with bloody brutal injuries on my husband and NOT A SCRATCH on the attacker. The weapon was a hockey stick which kept my husband from fighting back so he never touched his attacker. Defensive wounds on his inner forearms showed he was only able to try to defend himself by raising his arms to block blow after blow to his face and head. Linear defensive bruising on his arms along with the one-sided nature of the attack on my husband’s bludgeoned face/head should have made that clear to police. But my ex-family all lied together to police and hid the weapon. When I asked for a warrant for a search of their house (the ambush attack was planned and executed at my ex-parents’ house) for the hockey stick, they said “It’s Christmas, no judges want to be bothered for a warrant.” What?? Christmas gives criminals a free pass? I guess so. So although the police even SAID they knew my ex-family was lying to protect my ex-brother who they tasked with carrying out the attack for them, the police said “Just arrest them both and let the courts figure it out. Let’s get outta here.” Nice, huh?
        So they actually handcuffed my husband-the CLEAR VICTIM-and instead of his getting the medical attention he needed, he was brought to the police station along with his attacker! That’s when the police Lt. who had never bothered to look at or talk to US-the ones who’d called 911 for police help after a criminal attack-finally saw my husband’s injuries and saw the lack of any marks on his attacker. But the damage was done. The police couldn’t admit they screwed up. And the only way my husband could get his charges dropped was to agree to drop the charges against his attacker. Our lawyer’s bad advice. Scaring us into financial ruin to pay to take it to trial. So the judge NEVER got to see the pictures of my husband’s face and head injuries from that attack. She never could compare them to the LACK of any injuries on the attacker. She didn’t get to read my ex-father’s (abuser all his life and my life) “witness statement” filled with contradictory lies. Any judge could have figured it out IF she’d been shown thaws and other facts of evidence. But they were hidden by the police and prosecutor to try to cover up the incompetence of the police on scene.
        But we did civilly sue them for the injuries my husband suffered at the hands of my ex-brother directly and the negligence of my ex-parents at whose home it took place. We won. But my husband and I still suffer physical and mental injuries that will never be compensated. And the demonic clan rallied around the known abusers and ostracized us for calling the police on “family” and suing “family”. As if WE were the abusers for doing that to our attackers!! Family doesn’t plan and carry out a brutal weapon attack on family. Period. So although I witnessed the abuser-embracers all run to the sides of our attackers and my lifelong abusers, I cut them all out of my life forever. Anyone who accepts and welcomes this kind of abuse on innocent victims is not someone I want anywhere near us.
        But the high cost of isolation still, years later, distresses me. Seems WE are paying the price not them. They still have their satan-following allies all around them. But they’ll ALL answer to my King Jesus on that Day when He calls all to Judgment. The Righteous and Just Lord will get Perfect Justice for us. And Jesus will be with us every moment on earth to help us until that day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

  7. Faith

    This article clears up concerns that I have had for many years. After breaking contact with my abusive mother after her abuse escalated to her accusing me and my husband of doing things that we didn’t do, it became dangerous for us to continue to have contact with her. After this, all my siblings turned against me, and I assume she had a significant role in that. It seems to me that the topic of unrepentant, “Christian” parents (and siblings) continuing to abuse adult children is one that has seldom been addressed by the church.
    As a believer, I wanted to be loving and honor my parent and thus I accepted much abusive behavior over many years. When I did finally set a limit, the abuse escalated to the point where the relationship was no longer safe. If I had known this was likely to happen, I would have been more prepared, and it would have been less traumatic. I am also very unlikely to share my current situation with my Christian brothers and sisters because of the misinformation and false belief about this kind of situation. Articles like this help bring light into the darkness. Thank you.

  8. Breathe Again

    The abuser in my life doesn’t say he is sorry or admit any wrongdoing, while at the same time complaining that I won’t forgive him. What is there to forgive if he’s not done anything wrong? I told him I can forgive him til the cows come home (and God knows it is an ongoing process for me) but if he is not sorry then there will be no chance for reconciliation. He has alienated most of our children from him, but of course They are wrong for keeping their distance from him. It is sad, since the power lies only with him to make things any different for himself. But he refuses to see, or pretends not to understand.

    • Jeff Crippen

      And you can be sure he will never change. Thank you. You’re right on

    • Hello, Breathe Again. Dear one, everything you describe is precisely what I and my four children endured. Having now been involved in this area of ministry for ten years, I will tell you that, based on what you shared, I sincerely doubt that your husband is either ignorant or confused. He knows what he is doing. Furthermore, even forgiving him does not do anything to make him safer, nor does it mean that you are obligated to respond to him as though nothing has happened, although that is what he wants you to believe. I urge you to trust your instincts, refuse to play his game and keep on researching the abuse dynamic so that you can see it when it happens and decide from there what you need to do to protect yourself and your children.

      • Thank you so much, Cindy. Your words help me. I am working with a Christian woman who is a life coach, and has been through a painful divorce herself. Also have been in therapy and reading a lot about abuse. I know this relationship is over. It is sad but God is helping me face reality. I am grateful for this website!

  9. Lily

    And what to think of the abuser never even acknowledges that he is in sin, for that matter, won’t even recognize that mental abs emotional abuse exists, because it’s not black and white spelled out in the Bible?

    • Jeff Crippen

      His friend is the wooden superficial handling of the Bible which the Pharisees practiced as do may pastors and church members today.

      • Lily

        That word Pharisee has been used by so many to portrait him. Fascinating that you would use that phrase without even knowing him!

  10. Teresa

    Thank you for this opportunity to vent and define my own personal journey. I am trying to take steps toward freedom from abuse from my NPD family with its flying monkeys affecting my state of mind. I believe my mental and emotional well-being require a crystal clear perspective. I don’t want to permit confusion or false guilt to draw me back in to chaos. The loss I feel is very real and painful like a death.
    I seek truth to let go of the illusions a loving connection with my family and sisters is possible. It’s essential for me to go no contact with my two sisters. I will not call them anymore. They can live their lives. Furthermore, I need to realise it’s essential to thwart the flying monkeys by limiting information. The challenge is being steadfast….staying under the wire and out of range for missiles. I will now heal and move forward in greater freedom and fuller confidence. Any forgiveness I choose to extend, any prayers I ask God to impart….he can & will handle the rest. My life and my choices do NOT deserve, or warrant their approval or involve them! I now have CORRECT perspective that I don’t want to engage any further abuse. Since i no longer want bad feelings in my mind, I must do this! I feel ready to accept the sad facts.
    We as children suffered in varying degrees as victims from a very dysfunctional home, abusive father, and parents who had serious issues and problem! That being said…it’s not ok for me to submit to being available to be a whipping boy anymore. I can pray, obey and stay away! God have mercy on them, I do pray God alone can teach them heal them and change them…. because I cannot! They are…sick with NPD.
    Fact! I have been hoping for something that isn’t possible or likely. They are unable to be a loving and trustworthy sisters and family. Exposing myself in any way always leads to heartache, confusion, and despair. It must end here and now finally….going no contact is the only way, because crazy talk, abusive language, rage and belittling, character assassinations, flying monkeys, lies, narratives, ALL created cognitive dissonance reverberating serious pain in my life fueling their sick pathology. Sadly, fact is….they are mentally incapable.
    This insight as difficult as it is to finally understand and accept, provides me with an opportunity to do something different! I will now preserve my sanity, live my best life, make new associations with loving friends and leave them alone. I have been so mistaken….in expecting something from nothing. Why…is it I couldn’t see the truth of the abusive cycles being played out again and again and again over 45 years. They are liars, manipulators and experts at presenting a false self that is convincing to everyone except to their exposed targets.

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