Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Abusers Often Betray their Disguise in Subtle Ways we Must not Ignore

A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 6:12-15)

Winks with his eyes. Signals with his feet. Points with his finger. The nonverbal ways of the wicked man. Let’s think about these things a bit.
Quite a number of years ago — almost 20 I think — I attended a pastoral training class at a mega-church a few hours away from us. The pastor there was putting on the class. He was well-known because after he took a church over two decades or so before, the church rocketed to over 6,000 people. Huge campus. Millions and millions of dollars being invested in a completely new facility. He was the man. Their bookstore was filled with his books and tapes.
So we went there to learn “how to do it.” … Stupid. I know, I know.
During the morning presentation this pastor made a statement when he was talking to us about counseling. He said, and this is pretty much an exact quote, “Do you all know what is the most frequent question people ask when they come to me with their marriage troubles?” What do you think he gave as the answer? You won’t guess. Here it is – “They want me to help them sort out oral sex. Is it right? The wife is hesitant and the guy wants it. So they are in conflict.”

I only remember two things about that class.

  1. The oral sex statement this mega-pastor made.
  2. At that class I met another well-known and rather exalted pastor … and in the past couple of years two abuse victims have reported to me that this pastor instructed them they couldn’t divorce for abuse and pressured them to return to their abuser.

How did I react to the oral sex statement How did the class react? Well, the fact is that the statement was not true. It couldn’t be. I knew it — actually I had never ever had a married couple doing battle over that issue come to me for counseling. But, since Mr. experienced mega church pastor made the statement, we figured, “he knows a lot more than me. I guess he really has experienced that sort of thing.” And then we didn’t really give it another thought.
Jump ahead just a few years, before that church had even completed their new whazoo multi-millions facility. This pastor was in the headlines. Why? Because he had gone and gotten himself busted for lewd and immoral behavior in another state. Reports of it made their way back to his church. He was set up, he said. Falsely charged. Usual scenario — loyal fans rushed to his defense, including the elders of the church. But then other victims started coming forward. In fact, as it turns out, there had been a number of other accusations in past years over this guy acting immorally and lewdly toward several people. It had all been brushed aside.
But this time around, he couldn’t shake it. He ultimately resigned and later on the elders came to realize he was guilty.

Wicked people betray their true character in subtle ways

He was sexual abuser and a spiritual abuser, but I am certain that domestic abusers can fall under this observation as well. My point is this: — wicked people betray their true character in rather subtle ways, often in some setting that will enable them to explain away any accusation of abuse. Take this pastor for instance. Why was he talking to some 100 pastors about his oral sex thing? I can tell you why. He got his perverted kicks out of doing so. Almost like exposing himself in public and yet in a way that no one could charge him with anything. He was betraying what he really was. Not because he brought up the topic, but because of the setting in which he did it and the false nature of the “facts” he claimed.
We must learn to trust our instincts. We cannot excuse that “tweak” of uncomfortableness when the abuser’s mask drops for just a moment and the evil comes through before he sees his slip up and shoves the disguise back into place.

Another example

Let me give you another example which I probably have written about before. I went to visit a couple many years ago who had been coming to the church I pastored. When I arrived, it turned out that the husband was not home but I was invited to wait in the living room while the wife finished up a phone call to him. I could hear her speaking as I first walked in and she did not know I was there as yet. It was her tone. It did not match the image these two people had portrayed to us all as the fine, mature Christian couple. Nope. It was a tone of “leave me alone. Alright, alright, fine. Good-bye.” And then the hang up.
In later months I would learn that the husband was no doubt an abuser and as soon as he detected that he had been exposed even a little bit, suddenly they left and moved far away. What I saw that day, or rather, heard, was inconsistent with the disguise and in fact betrayed the truth of their relationship.

One more example

When I was in seminary (I had already been a pastor for ten years), I was in the office of an “up and coming” pastor who had his doctorate degree and headed up a growing, happening church. I was supposed to interview him as a project and I had actually met him before. We talked quite a long time, he showed me around the church facility, and then we went back to his impressive looking office. Then, his wife came in. “Are you done yet?” she said in a perturbed, tense voice. “I told you we have to leave now!”
“Ok, ok, we are just finishing up here. I’m coming,” he answered in a cold, flat, loveless voice.
This scene, you see, did not match the persona this pastor wore. What bothered me the most was not his wife’s frustration, but his cold, uncaring tone in response to her. I knew, or rather at that time I felt, something was wrong there. I later learned that they had anything but a happy family and not too long after things really blew up in that church and he was gone.
When our observations and senses detect things that just aren’t right, that simply do not fit appearances, we must not be ready to quickly suppress them and file them away. Abusers hide in our churches. But abusers slip up. Even the masterful kind are not perfect in their evil ways. Their fake halo slips and the horns protrude for a few seconds. And it is in those times we can be pretty sure we are in the presence of a deceiver. Warning systems are on. It is time to proceed with caution.


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  1. Amy

    I have to admit, I wasn’t surprised at the answer the first pastor gave. And my first thought was that this was his ‘thing’ and that’s why he talked about it.
    I have found things out about my ex in the past year that shouldn’t surprise me but have. I knew he was heavy into porn before we married (I shake my head these days at how I still made the decision 30 years ago to marry a man who threw out so many red flags) and that carried over into our marriage, but what my son shared with me last year re: his father taking pictures of young girls while they were out in public, made me sick to my stomach.
    These evil abusive men always, always, end up slipping and revealing their true self, but the sad part is how so many in the church choose to turn a blind eye to it.
    Thank you for speaking and sharing the truth.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Amy. We have all been duped by evil people, but the Lord gives us wisdom and we grow. What is sad is that because pastors and churches fail to be wise in the Lord (many aren’t even born again) then we had no one to teach us. We had to learn some hard lessons with much suffering.

  2. walkinginlight

    Yes, the slip up is when discernment kicks in! The minister that talked about a sex act in front of all those other pastors would be considered “lewd” by any real Christian. It would be a embarrassment to be in the company of strangers and have a topic like that brought up. Somehow I could never see Jesus talking about something like that in public. I also cringe when on the Christian radio station I have on, they start a conversation about what are really personal things. There is a time and place for everything and I believe that a pastor should not be speaking of sex acts in a room full of people! No wonder that guy got busted for his sin.

    • eagerlabs

      “when discernment kicks in”!! So right! Thanks for you all, and the truth of His word that ever allows to grow in and practice His wisdom. 🙂

  3. Jessica

    I see have these ‘slip ups’ quite often over the years and have always been amazed how the abusers continually get forgiven of them, or they are ignored. Many times someone would say “oh that so and so, that’s just her”, excusing the continual rude and insensitive behaviors and justifying them buy insinuating that the abuser is just being flighty or that they were stressed. No excuses for the victims though when they start truth telling and pointing out that it’s covert, toxic abuse…complete opposite in fact, the discerning ones get vilified and shunned. So twisted.

  4. StillWiggling

    There was another notorious potty-mouthed megachurch “pastor” who tried to make a case from the Bible that a wife must “serve” her husband with oral sex. You probably know who I’m talking about. By their fruits you shall know them…. I would submit that he most definitely flunked the fruit test. Ick.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, and he is still able to gather a following.

      • crankybeach

        Itching ears, pastor Jeff, itching ears…. Somebody a whole lot smarter than I talked about that.

  5. NeatNerd

    I found some old sermon notes on the topic of lust. That pastor has set off too many red flags, and this is just another.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Preaching against the very perversions he himself practices. We’ve seen that many times.

  6. Debby Seguin

    I can imagine that every person attending that “class” had their spirit twitch uncomfortably (not bc of the topic, we are all adults and sometimes need to broach personal subjects,for sure) but the setting, a captive audience of strangers. Yep he was enjoying himself for sure. You all needed one little boy to say “But the emperor has no clothes on!” I can remember a few moments like this, where my gut twitched, but I said nothing bc I didn’t understand why it was twitching, how to articulate it. They RELY on our social conscience to keep OURSELVES in line.

    • Jeff Crippen

      The guy was actually a sexual voyeur in action! Thanks Debbie.

  7. Stormy

    So true. I appreciate all your posts. The appointed volunteer youth group leader who was also a domestic abuser had a huge hidden porn collection.
    The music ministers and bible study leaders (his allies) knew about his addictions, criminal inclinations and disrespect for women. It didn’t matter.
    To hear it matter to you Pastor Crippen in such plain language provides me another layer of healing and validation. Thank you so much!

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