Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Diotrephes, the Evangelical Church, and You

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. (10) So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. 3 John 1: 9-10

My two books, A Cry for Justice and Unholy Charade, were written because the evangelical, Bible-believing church has a problem – a big problem.  Diotrephes is hiding in our pews.  Or rather, he is hiding in plain view.  He (or she) is the person who wears a mask of eminent saintliness, having convinced most everyone in the church of his godliness, but whose real motive is a craving to be first.  Diotrephes likes to put himself first.  He sees himself as entitled to power and control and regards himself as fully justified in using whatever tactics are necessary to ensure that he lords this power over the people of Christ.  Perhaps you have known him?

Diotrephes, and people like him, are abusers.  Some abuse the flock of Christ – all certainly deceive the sheep – while others exercise their diabolical tactics in their marriage and home.  They are perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse, and their target of choice is their wife and children.  If you want to learn about sin – how it thinks, what methods it uses – study this subject of domestic violence and abuse. You will probably find that you won’t have to go far to find it.  There are few local churches that are untouched by it, though even fewer who realize what is happening.
Christ has a particular care for the helpless and defenseless – the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the land.  Today, such people are often among us as victims of abuse.  Most frequently they are women and their abuser is their husband.  Don’t limit your thinking about abuse to physical assaults only.  Abuse is a mentality – a worldview. The abuser is a person whose conscience is largely dysfunctional, or even inoperative. He sees himself as superior – as the center of the universe.  He is, in his thinking, entitled to have power over and to control his wife and his children.  His arsenal of weapons to effect and maintain this control is quite large.  The abusive person does not think like normal people do.  One of our biggest mistakes in dealing with this sin is to assume that he does think like us, and this becomes one of his biggest weapons to deceive us.
Who are the victims in your world – in your church?  Don’t be too quick to dismiss the possibility that they are there.  It is not a possibility, but a probability!  The statistics are that one in four women are victims of domestic violence.  And there are some male victims as well – they have an even greater shame that keeps them from asking for help.  Here is an excerpt from the beginning of my first book that may serve to introduce you further to what I am speaking of here.  In future posts, I will work to educate you to the thinking and tactics of the abuser, helping you to recognize him and to render justice and aid to his victims who are among us.  Please understand that we have a problem. The evangelical church has not been doing well in coming to the aid of these victims.  In fact, we have been discounting them and harming them instead.

Pastor Andrews was continuing with his sermon series on marriage.  And the congregation was listening, mostly with smiles and knowing, nodding of heads as the Pastor struck upon some of the common difficulties in the home.  It was quite a pleasant atmosphere; Pastor Andrews was so good at giving light and  humorous illustrations.  “You know, Sunday mornings can be really difficult for families, can’t they? All the rushing about to get ready and get to church on time. How many of you had some conflicts this morning at home or in the car on your way to church?” Husbands and wives looked at one another, smiled and chuckled.  It was all so foolish – but funny too. Yes, they were just human beings with all of their glitches.  The Lord knows all about it.
But in this congregation of some 150 people, there were two women who didn’t seem to be sharing in the joviality.  Oh, there were some strained smiles from them at this point or that but for Rose Jansen and Elizabeth Bettson these words hit a little too close to home.  Both were distraught and distracted.  Rose avoided looking at her husband and fiddled with the pages in her Bible.  Elizabeth rolled up the corner of her jacket, unrolled it, then rolled it again as she stared straight ahead. Unlike them, their husbands “got it”.  Laughing and nodding their heads, they seemed to appreciate the Pastor’s point. “It really is funny, you know – isn’t it?,” Pastor Andrews continued, “how we argue on Sunday mornings and then put on a happy face  and come into the church building all smiles.”
Preparing to wrap up, he smiled at his congregation. “But God understands. Jesus knows we are all fallible and frail.  That is why He went to the cross.  May He bless each one of you this week. Let’s pray.” Heads were bowed as the prayer was offered. The amens were said, the closing hymn was sung and people stood to leave. On the way out a happy atmosphere prevailed: hands were shaken, the Lord was praised repeatedly and the people headed home to their roasts or to meet friends at the Sizzler.
For Rose and Elizabeth it was different. As they left with their husbands, they did so to return to a world that no one in the church knew about nor could even imagine. They left with husbands whom everyone thought they knew, but didn’t.  Welcome to Rose and Elizabeth’s world.  It is the world of abuse.  It is a foreign land to most of us but one that exists right within the church, often in the pew just next to us.


Is Your Abuser a "Child of God"?


Dealing With the Abuser — sermon by Ps. Jeff Crippen


  1. Praying Lady

    “The statistics are that one in four women are victims of domestic violence.”
    Based on my experience ministering to women who have survived numerous types of trauma, including domestic violence, I believe this percentage is higher, probably more than 50%, especially among Christian women. They (may be) easy targets, easily intimidated and controlled by their abusers who use Scripture to threaten them and to justify their abusive behavior.

    “Don’t limit your thinking about abuse to physical assaults only.”

    Absolutely! As a survivor of physical, verbal, spiritual, emotional and sexual abuse, I can verify that physical abuse does not always cause the most devastating and painful trauma, although it is definitely extremely damaging to the woman’s heart and spirit. Other types of abuse do not leave physical evidence, but the emotional and spiritual pain they inflict are ongoing, deep and severely debilitating at times.
    I lived with a man whose “conscience was largely dysfunctional, or even inoperative” for many decades, and we attended numerous services where the message was just like what you described above. My ex was never convicted about his abusive behavior as a result of those messages. They just fed his ability to justify his ungodly actions. I also believe that a large number of women who smile and nod during those messages are too afraid to show their pain, or they are in denial as a defense and survival mechanism.
    The church needs to WAKE UP to what is really going on with these wolves in sheep’s clothing. Too many women are suffering in silence without any hope of freedom from their hellish life. Many have been in the situation for many years or decades, and they cannot imagine how they could possibly escape. They have very little or no financial and other resources to help them do so. Others have bought into the LIE that their suffering helps them become better Christians and that it honors God.
    Thank you, again, Pastor Crippen, for sounding the alarm and continuing to repeat this message. It NEEDS to be repeated, and repeated, and repeated!

  2. cindy burrell

    This is all so true. I lived it. I survived it. But it was a sham, a lie. Sitting next to my abuser in church, his arm around me (just about the only time he expressed what I thought was genuine affection toward me), I covered for him, played the wifely role and strove to honor God with the hope that the man might become the person he claimed to be. Eighteen years in I finally left, a shell of a woman with four equally broken, frightened children. Since leaving years ago, all five of us have had to fight to reclaim our lives, leaving behind the wicked man I should have left so many years before…
    For those who may be reading this and see themselves, don’t wait. See the evil for what it is and get out. Please. You don’t want to live with the kind of regret I have had to carry. Forgiving myself has been the hardest part.
    NOTE from moderator: See Jeff’s reply of clarification to this comment.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Cindy. Just one note of clarification – we all know that many domestic abuse victims cannot leave immediately due to the economic, “legal” and other forms of oppression designed to keep the victim enslaved. So when we say “don’t wait,” it is not our intent to guilt anyone who hasn’t left, but it is meant for encouragement. To help everyone realize that leaving is a good thing, in spite of what so many others might be saying.

  3. Jane Smith

    Thank you Pastor Crippen and brave ladies who suffered and are still suffering under the hands of fake Christian abusers. I stand with you. You’ve got my support!

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