Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Let's Put This "But he hasn't physically abused you" Nonsense to Rest Once and For All

Listen to these far too common words from a pastor to an abused wife who has gone to him for help. The abuse has occurred for decades, habitually, without repentance:

From what I have been told, you have suggested that your husband’s looking at inappropriate images on the internet is adultery,  but he has not committed the physical act .  Could this not be more appropriately handled with counseling than divorce? From what I have been told your husband has not deserted you but conversely is willing to go to a counselor of your choice. You have intimated that your husband has not physically abused you, but has said mean things in the past and has been manipulative.  Again, could this not be more appropriately handled with counseling rather than with divorce?

There it is. “He has not committed the physical act of adultery. He has not physically abused you. Therefore, tough it out and quit complaining. Why, your husband is even willing to come down here to the church building with you and let me counsel the two of you.”

Remember, now, this has been going on for decades. And yet this pastor sees himself as some kind of counseling superman who can leap the tall buildings of this abuser’s lifelong wickedness in a single bound, and quicker than a speeding bullet he just knows that he will be able to show the victim how she is really pretty much to blame herself. Go, Super Pastor!

Physical. Outward. Visible = Real.
Non-physical, inward, often invisible = not real.

Doesn’t the Bible completely reverse these equations? Take 2 Corinthians 3 for instance. You know, where Paul teaches us how he is an apostle of a better covenant than the covenant Moses mediated. Why? Because the Old Covenant was an outward, physical covenant written on tablets of stone which resulted in a fading glory. In contrast, the New Covenant is of a greater, permanent glory because due to the atoning work of Jesus Christ the Spirit of God takes the Word of God and engraves it upon our hearts. Can’t see it, but in fact it is real and permanent. So this is simply to say to pastors and Christians who pull this “but he hasn’t ever physically….whatever” on us that God’s Word repeatedly emphasizes that just because something is not physical and external and visible in no way means that it is not real! In fact what is not seen (we walk by faith, not by sight) far surpasses in reality that which is fading away.
Want more? Ok. Here is God’s commentary, direct from the Holy Spirit, on verbal abuse:

Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  (Rom. 3:13-14)
Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah Guard me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. (Ps. 140:1-4)
Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. (Ps. 52:2)
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear. They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, “Who can see them?” (Ps. 64:2-5)
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:6-8)

Alright then, we shall now ask Mr. Super Pastor/Christian/counselor:–
You say that this abuse is not real, or at the most it is really not so serious and dangerous as the victim seems to think, because it is not physical. It’s, well, it’s just words or looks, or non-contact behaviors that…well, you know…can’t really hurt anyone so seriously that they would justify that greatest of evils, divorce!? And yet, here is a curious thing. God says…hear that?  GOD says that the abuser’s words are:

  • Asp venom
  • Violence
  • A sharp razor
  • A sword
  • Arrows
  • Fire (and hellish fire at that)
  • Deadly poison

So let’s just see what we have here. This woman who has come to you for help is being bitten by an asp, is having violence effected against her, is being cut with a sharp razor and run through with a sword, she is being shot with arrows, burned with fire, and fed a deadly poison regularly.
And you say that this is not grounds for divorce because it is not “physical.” What you mean is, “what is being done to you, Mrs. Victim, isn’t real.”
Mr. Super Pastor, God disagrees with you. You are at odds with the Lord Jesus Christ! He has spoken on this over and over in His Word. He says that non-physical, verbal, emotional abuse is real. That it is deadly. It is murder. That’s what God says.
So please, take some advice. Listen carefully. Stop saying “but it isn’t physical abuse.” Stop it. You are only hurting the victim, showing yourself to be ignorant of the nature and tactics of abuse, and worst of all you are opposing the King whom you claim is your Lord.
One final note for the notorious “permanence view” crowd. Look closely at the list above. You teach that God does not permit the victim of such evil to divorce her poisoner, cutter, stabber, and burner. What shall we say to you? Nothing. Because if you can’t figure out that God permits divorce for the evils in this list, I know of nothing I can say to straighten you out.


What the Presence of Christ in Us Will Mean


Just How Deceitful can an Abuser be? – When Bad Fruit Looks Good


  1. joepote01

    Good post!

  2. MapleRose

    Exactly. My ex-pastor said to me when I first went to him that it would be easier for him to help me if my then husband had hit me. Looking back at how this pastor dealt with the whole situation (very poorly), I’m not sure if even that would have been enough.
    I have found it interesting that, like Pastor Crippen, he had been a police officer for 10 years before entering the ministry. However, whereas Pastor Crippen has been willing to learn and has a big heart, this pastor always seemed a bit cold and stuck in his ways. He has a strong need to control, and I often felt I saw more in-charge police officer than humble, serving pastor in him.

  3. Amy

    Amen, amen, amen! Right on again, Pastor Crippen!
    My ex walked out in ’09 and there was an elder at our former church who was trying to ‘help’ my then-husband and only saw me as an un-submissive, disrespectful woman who should be forgiving, forgetting and reconciling. When I found out he had convinced my then-husband to weasel his way back into our home after he had walked out because this elder told him how he was head of that household and had every right to live there, I called this man up and he spat at me, “What, did he ever hit you?” with emphasis on the word ‘hit’ and then went on to tell me how God hates divorce. I simply told him that God hates the violence within a home that causes divorce, and that yes, my husband hurt me and our boys almost every single day with his sharp edged tongue. I never spoke to that man again and to this day he will not acknowledge me.
    My oldest son (now in his late 20s) is just now opening up to me about his father’s abuse and the damage it caused him is tremendous. Were we physically hit, no, but if his words could have caused physical damage (and they did, my son is very sick and I know my ailments are from it also), we would have be black and blue from head to toe.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Amy. I know exactly what you are talking about. The Bible calls it “reviling.” It is such a serious sin that the Lord says revilers will never enter the kingdom of heaven. I am very glad your son is opening up and talking about the abuse now. I know numbers of children raised by revilers who never come to that point and continue under bondage.

  4. Praying Lady

    These “Super Pastors” are not even living in reality. One night, I was physically abused by my now ex and I talked to our pastor about it the next day (over 20 years ago). The night before, I was trying to talk to my ex to resolve an argument we had just had when he started kicking me over and over. He told me that unless I shut up he was going to continue kicking me. So, I stopped talking. He had a habit of using anger to shut down any conversation that he did not want to have with me.
    After I told our “pastor” about what had happened, he told me that we were both acting like children and we both “needed to be spanked.” That was his response to the physical abuse I suffered. Needless to say, I felt like it was my fault and I never talked to another pastor about any of the abuse I suffered after that.
    Several years before that, a pastor had refused to counsel me and my ex, because my ex admitted that he lied constantly and was deceitful. Looking back, I can see that the pastor did not consider himself to be a “Super Pastor.” He realized how futile it would be to try to counsel a serial liar.
    I was mentally, emotionally, verbally, spiritually, sexually and physically abused and also “gaslighted” by my ex for over 30 years. The physical abuse was the least damaging. The non-physical forms of abuse were much more devastating to me. They leave deep emotional, mental and spiritual wounds and scars that can take years to heal.
    The good news is that our heavenly Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit have the power and love that can heal our shattered hearts. I am a survivor and more than a conqueror through the blood of Jesus Christ. His love continues to heal me and His strength has allowed me to help others. I am so grateful that the Lord rescued me from decades of abuse and that He is able to do the same for others. The joy of the Lord is my strength and the support and prayers of close friends who are genuine followers of Jesus have been tremendously important in the healing of my heart and spirit.
    Forget the “Super Pastors.” They are clueless and they do more damage to already wounded victims!

    • GypsyAngel

      Praying Lady,
      My heart goes out to you. Your story sounds so close to what I experienced. I was married to my ex for 30+ years. I also stopped going to clergy for help because of the abuse I suffered under their “authority.” Thank you for sharing you testimony.

  5. Elizabeth

    I love that you are doing this work. Too many abusers hide behind the Bible, demanding “submission” as their God-given right when they deserve nothing more than to be cast out. Bravo to you for exposing their evil and standing up for the survivors who need support!

  6. walkinginlight

    PRAYING LADY, your testimony touched my heart. I can certainly identify with you. I praise God you are free now. The Lord does bind up all our wounds and sets the captives free! I have been abused almost all of my life (from a angry father to a angry anti-husband who hid the anger dating) and I can honestly say that yes, the verbal, mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse is far worse than the physical. I also remember a Christian counselor in the late 90’s told our support group just that. I also praise the Lord for Him healing my destroyed heart and still being able to love people deeply and keep empathy toward others. Thank You Lord!!!

  7. Anonymous

    And domestic violence is much more than just hitting. Consider the phrase “manage by intimidation” and how applicable is that to most abused women’s lives? Abusers don’t beat their wives every day because they don’t have to, as the mere threat of repeating a past beating, if it was severe enough, is sufficient to obtain and perpetually maintain complete control. Control by instilling fear.
    It’s how and why threats work out for abusers so well. They get to control by threats, and yet keep the number of bruises, visible injuries to a minimum as they severely beat their wives now and then and obtain total compliance and blind obedience from the fear of such being done again.
    And words are powerful. Practically every abused woman I ever met found the verbal violence to be the worst. It scars and haunts. Abusers can speak in such a way that it feels as though the abused woman is being repeatedly punched in the head.

  8. Annie

    Thank you for the great post. I find so much refuge in this blog. My husband has never hit me but he has been abusive, manipulative and deceitful since we got married. I did not realize that he was like this as during dating he was gentle charming and kind. Once we got married the real him emerged. He has chosen not to work for almost 20 years and has no plans to in the future although he has plenty of ideas how I should earn a living (i am in my mid fifties now). My husband used to look at porn. I suspect that he still does. He has had one affair I know of and he justified it on the ground that I am cold and distant although it was him who rejected me and said he did not want any any intimacy with me more than 12 years ago.
    My pastor has counseled only me as my husband did not want to be counseled. My pastor said adultery was wrong but found that divorce would be wrong as my husband had lots of good qualities such as seeing to our meals, shopping for groceries, taking care of our son, seeing to his homework, sending him to school, sports and music and repairing my car if the need arises. Looking at it from this angle my husband does not seem all bad but somehow I don’t trust him anymore.
    Now I am so confused again and wonder if I have been unreasonable. My husband wants me to give him some money from my inheritance funds so that he can start a business. I am very reluctant as he has no staying power and gives up easily when the going gets tough. He has accused me of being selfish and not being a submissive wife as I refused to share my inheritance money with him. I do use the funds for our expenses and holidays etc but I will not give him a portion of the funds as this was my dad’s hard earned money and I do not think a lying cheating man deserves it. He is exerting pressure on me to renovate the house with this funds and I am not keen. He has also been pushing me to have a joint account. It is always about money it seems.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Annie – You are wise. The only reason that you are confused right now is this…..”My pastor has counseled only me as my husband did not want to be counseled. My pastor said adultery was wrong but found that divorce would be wrong as my husband had lots of good qualities…”. That pastor is no pastor. He is incredibly selfish and absolutely unjust. Ignore him as a counselor. He is not speaking for the Lord even if he says that he is.
      As to your husband, you can see that he is never going to change and you have been very wise to not give him your inheritance money. He will without any doubt waste it away on foolish endeavors. Do not listen to his accusations against you. Abusers hate anyone who tells them “no.”
      Only you can make the decision for yourself, but I can tell you that the Lord absolutely will not condemn you for divorcing this unfaithful, lazy man. Living with such a spouse wears and wears and wears on you. If you do not have serious health issues yet, more years living in such an environment will certainly deteriorate your mental, emotional, and physical health. Such is the cost of staying with such a person. I am not implying that leaving an abuser is always an easy thing, but I can tell you that staying with one is much, much harder on you.
      Trust yourself. Trust your insights and your observations. And don’t trust people like this pastor whose counsel will only destroy you.
      Many, many blessings in Christ,

    • Amy

      Dear Annie,
      Of course, you do not trust your husband anymore after all these years of deceit and lies. How sad that your pastor thinks your husband is so wonderful because he cooks, buys groceries and helps your child, and then just dismisses the affair, and it should make you wonder why only you are the one getting counseling.
      You husband sounds like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, playing the nice guy.
      Your gut is right in telling you not to trust him. Look back over the years at how deceitful your husband has been and allow that to be your guide in whether he has or ever will change. Highly unlikely at this point.
      We often wait for some earth-shattering sign from God to tell us what to do, but often He speaks to us in little ways such as reading this blog, or a blog like mine written from a woman who once lived in an abusive marriage, or perhaps a book about abuse, etc.
      Look at everything which leads you to question your husband’s behavior and the structure of your marriage as your guide to what is right or wrong. And listen to your gut — God gave us those feelings to warn us when something is not right.
      Praying for you to find discernment and direction.

    • Praying Lady

      Annie, my ex had a lot of “good” qualities also, but they DID NOT EXCUSE ANY OF HIS ABUSE. When he was strangling me in front of a policeman, his “good” qualities did not matter. Looking back, I can see more of his evil and wicked qualities and I am more than grateful to the Lord for setting me free. I was married to him for over 35 years and believe me, it has not been an easy adjustment being alone, but I now have peace and I am no longer living with a serial liar who abused me in so many ways.
      Pastor Crippen is absolutely correct in saying this:
      “Living with such a spouse wears and wears and wears on you. If you do not have serious health issues yet, more years living in such an environment will certainly deteriorate your mental, emotional, and physical health. Such is the cost of staying with such a person. I am not implying that leaving an abuser is always an easy thing, but I can tell you that staying with one is much, much harder on you.” I know. I have lived it. Living with such a spouse can also have negative affects on your spiritual well-being.
      You are not being unreasonable. You can not trust a man that has committed adultery, refused intimacy with you, and been manipulative and deceitful. There is no justification for adultery.
      You are having a hard time seeing clearly due to the abuse and wrong counsel from your pastor. Listen to Pastor Crippen, “Trust yourself. Trust your insights and your observations.”
      I will pray for you, Annie, to have the strength you need to follow the Lord’s will for you and your son.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, Praying Lady and Pastor Crippen, the health issues aspect is huge.
        This one research study was done tracking these women who had been victims of DV in their 20s and gotten out (in their 20s). And along their life, their 40s, 50s, 60s, compared to the control group, the nonabused women (who weren’t subjected to DV in their 20s) these women had markedly worse health outcomes. The rates of CFS, fibromyalgia, and other chronic health conditions were 5 or more times that of the non-abused women.
        And brain health. Each time you are slammed into a wall, each time he violently shakes you and your head is thrashed, each time you’re thrown to the floor. Those hits count. Not only does the immense stress of being abused ages you, but brain injuries are a huge deal. Each time he strangles you. Each time he suffocates you. It all adds up.
        Your brain also ages tremendously. The effects of abuse show up now and later. And researchers can track the deleterious outcomes easily enough, however, due to society’s devaluation of women and not caring very much about the rampant rates of misogyny, DV, DA, and so forth, these things aren’t studied, well-publicized, and used to push for change.
        Think about all the press that the NFL got in terms of CTE and head injuries sustained by football players. Some battered women are way worse off…. not only do they get hit, slammed, thrown, but it’s usually done by a guy who outsizes them, whereas, the million dollar football players are going against someone their size and both are willing and ready and having extensively trained to be playing football and they get cushioned helmets and other equipment. None of them are being strangled or suffocated unconscious either.
        Not only does it affect your brain, but also rates of heart disease are greatly increased.
        Let alone the spirit killing inherent in DV and DA. And let’s not even start about the soul killing of SA.
        When I think about all these books, conferences, seminars, and endless talking points directed at getting women to stay, to think they can somehow change their abusers, to pray hard enough and make their abusers into God-fearing people, (the ‘Christian’ movies about praying hard, and other fantasy and bad teachings), or that abusers simply need these Mens Change Programs and counseling,……….. it sickens me and enrages me. I don’t think this is mistaken or coincidental or haphazardly done but very deliberate and just perpetuates the whole misogyny, men as mini-gods, beat your wives, abuse your wives, ‘head of the household’ tyranny.
        Look at what is done to women’s lives. There’s research done to the effects of children who grow up in seeing their moms beaten or abused. Yet judges routinely give batterers custody, as though to deprive them of further subjugation by tyrant, abuser Dad wouldn’t be acceptable.
        Every last author, conference speaker, pastor, etc. out there in the Christian circles needs to be held accountable somehow if they are spouting the nonsense that DV and DA are simply counseling matters, that wives need to be better _______, submit, woman, submit….. and DIVORCE IS NOT THE ANSWER……. they need to be responsible for each time another woman is beaten again, because she listened to their bad advice and bad directives and stayed with an abuser, thinking God requires such of her…. or that her godliness will somehow save the abuser from hell and so she needs to suffer and endure…..
        Even if the women get away, that doesn’t stop the abuse. Nor does it stop the deleterious effects of the abuse and violence and stress on her health — then and later on in life.
        May the wicked abusers be thrown into the pit.
        Thanks for Pastor Crippen and TWBTC and others for providing this ministry!

        • Jeff Crippen

          Anonymous- Thank you. Right on. I have written in the past “the abuser is a murderer. Abuse is murder.” It really is true as you say here. And as God’s Word says: 1Jn 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

    • Beth

      Annie, my heart goes out to you. I am sorry he makes you feel confused. One thing I would say is that it is satan who brings confusion. It is satan who drags and pushes to make you go his way. God leads and directs with kindness and love. I may sometimes feel that I don’t want to do what the Lord is asking but I never feel confused as to if I should.
      I have a lot of guilt in my life and that makes it difficult to discern how God is leading me. I have to wait and pray and wait and pray to make sure that my guilt isn’t making decisions for me. But the guilt that I carry can make me feel very confused.
      I am told I “should” do or be something, then my guilt ways in with how bad of a person/wife/mother/sister/daughter/friend…….etc…..and if start getting confused. Take a step back and breathe. Don’t feel you have to be in a hurry on anything. God leads and brings clarity, satan pushes and brings confusion.

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