Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Abusive Tactics: Telling Victims What to Think

1 Corinthians 2:11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

Pharisees claim to know out thoughts and motives better than we do.  Those of you who have done much reading about abuse know that abusers, be they domestic or spiritual or both, proclaim the ability to crawl inside the mind of their victim, see what the victim is thinking, discern what her motives are, and in addition tell her what she is to think and what her motives are to be.  Of course no one except the Lord can do this, but the abuser can be very convincing.  I remember a scene in the movie Cape Fear (not recommending it by the way) in which the evil character (Robert Di Niro) is doing this very thing to a teen-age girl.  It was very well portrayed as he diabolically analyzes and dictates her thoughts and motives to her, holding her mesmerized.

But Pharisees and other abusers do this.  When you run into a Pharisee, you will soon feel the pressure to conform to his/her traditions.  Not just some of them.  All of them.  And if you don’t, well they are going to punish you and eventually be done with you.  We must all be on guard against this tactic and draw firm boundaries with people who try to use it on us.  “No, Fred, you must stop doing that.  You cannot tell me what I am thinking or what my motive was when I did that.  You don’t know my thoughts and you cannot dictate them to me.”  If Fred is not willing to abide by that boundary, then Fred is not a person to have a relationship with.
And we must all be careful not to use this tactic ourselves.  Yes, there can be a little Pharisee hiding in each of us.  When someone disagrees with us on some issue, for example, we must be willing to permit them that freedom.  Especially when the issue is of the category of a “matter of conscience” as Paul discusses in Romans 14-15.  Who are we to judge the servant of another?  To his own master he stands or falls.
We cannot ensure that we will never again hear someone say to us “well, if that is your opinion on this then I want nothing to do with you!”  But we can make sure that we never say that to anyone ourselves out of a motive of merely making them conform to our opinion.  If a person differs with us on a vital issue — such as the truth of the gospel — well, then there probably is not going to be a very close relationship and maybe none at all.  Or if an abuser refuses to repent and insists upon controlling us, then we cannot have a safe relationship with him.  But that is his doing, not ours.


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  1. My physically abusive ex would tell me my motive was to to injure him without leaving marks! He warned me that he had proof that I was abusing him because I had scratched his face while trying to get away from him. I was petrified to call police because he had me convinced me that I would be arrested! Finally at the urging of my pastor I called police when he started to rage and I was able to escape from the relationship. I found his assigning of my motives shocking and I would ask him if he was in my head and knew what I was thinking because he got it wrong. Now I actually think he was assigning his own evil motives to me.

  2. barrie

    My soon to be X pastor husband of 25 years did the same as starlights did. Mine actually called the police on me and had me arrested. Total set up. He has just days prior hit me in the back.. the kids all were with me when this happened. I required him to apologize to me and th skids for him hitting me. He did then reluctantly but he didn’t mean it. Just one week later on mothers day he was treated me bad and videotaping me while i was trying to discuss an issue with my then 19 year old in private about her unkind behavior,, he wouldn’t stop taping me and was acting like I was being abusiive to my daughter when I was just trying to teach her a life lesson of not judging her siblings with our first looking at her on stuff… I tried to get him to go out of her room and he wouldn’t I then tried to get him to stop video taping me and he wouldn’t.. I reached for the camera and he says he got scratched. I still to the is day believe he scratched himself! God knows the truth and I am deeply comforted by that knowledge.

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