Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

"How do I Avoid Getting Tied up With Another Abuser?" – A Common Question

2Co 11:13-15  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  (14)  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  (15)  So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

Recently I was asked a very good question by an abuse survivor who has had more than one experience with abusive relationships, one in which she was nearly killed. The question is stated in the title of this article, “how do I avoid getting tied up with another abuser?”
Well, the answer is not an easy one. There is no fixed formula with guarantees. As the Apostle Paul said in the scripture quoted above, evil comes in very, very deceptive disguises. How many of you for instance can tell about how charming and wonderful “he” was when you first met him? And how he is still thought of as the most wonderful, godly saint in your church? No, there are no acid texts. But we can still apply some pretty good wisdom.

I have been duped by many people these 36 years I have been a pastor. I mean, I want people to come to know Christ. And I want Christians to come and join our church and fellowship with us and help with the ministry. You know the feeling – someone you meet says they are a Christian too, just like you, and you get a bit excited because it is pretty neat to cross paths with another believer.
But over the years I have learned to slow down. I don’t quickly invite people who claim to be Christians to come to our church. In fact, I actually more quickly invite people who don’t claim Christ at all but who seem to have some honest questions. But Satan cloaks himself with many disguises and his favorite ones are “Christian.” Over the years the vast majority of persecution we have suffered here has come from people who claim to be godly, saintly, Christian people – NOT from the unbelieving pagan world. Recently a man and his wife visited our church. I had a negative first impression. He called and left me a message later in the week praising our church and saying he wanted to meet me for “coffee.” I never returned his call. He never returned to our church. And I am fine with that.
So, having experienced this deceiving wickedness myself many times, let me just give you some principles that I think are valuable in guarding us against abusers coming into our lives.

  1. Don’t be hasty to assume people who say they are Christians really know the Lord. No matter how “godly” they speak or how “saintly” they might act, withhold your judgment. They may well not be what they look like.
  2. Beware of people who talk and talk and talk “Bible.” I have found the real Christians don’t feel the need to portray themselves as holy.
  3. Never, never, never yield to pressure to be involved with someone sexually before marriage. Never. Never. In fact if they are pressuring you to do so, they aren’t someone you want to marry. And telling them “no” is an excellent test of who they really are.
  4. Do not ignore red flags that sometimes are just a “feeling” in you. Something produced that feeling of uncomfortableness.
  5. Stop being so “nice.” Have firm boundaries that you expect others to respect. One of the most vulnerable targets for abuse is a woman who is pretty, and who is “just so nice and kind to everyone.” Abusers are attracted to her beauty and then when they see she is so “nice” to everyone, they know she is an easy target for power and control.
  6. Stop “thinking the best” about people. If someone does something wrong or something that makes you uncomfortabe or hurt, then don’t make excuses for them. “Oh, he didn’t mean to….”. Yes he did.
  7. Dump the person who is never wrong. The person who never admits guilt or apologizes, but blames others instead. Beware the guy who too readily bad mouths his ex-wife.
  8. Don’t permit yourself to think that you “must have a man” in your life. Some of the healthiest abuse survivors I know tell me how much they are enjoying being single.
  9. Recognize that we live in incredibly evil times. I do not exaggerate (though many “christians” accuse me of exaggeration) when I say that the visible church today is for the most part corrupt. That means that the majority of professing Christians do not know the Lord at all and he does not know them. Genuine, regenerate, godly people are not that easy to find.
  10. Deal with yourself. Focus on growing in Christ and knowing Him more intimately. As you grow in His truth and light, agents of the enemy will become easier and easier to spot AND guess what? They won’t be comfortable around you. This is probably the most important point in this list.

Let me elaborate a bit on #10. I am going to tell you something that is going to sound arrogant on my part, but here it is. Start listening to the sermons we post on YouTube and on sermonaudio.com/crc.  Follow our Sunday services by going to Light for Dark Times (lightfordarktimes.com) where you will find the order of service and the sermon video for each Sunday. Learn along with us and grow in Christ. I highly recommend the “In My Father’s House” sermon series on sermonaudio.com/crc to teach you the big picture of the Bible. Then you have the Wise as Serpents series that teaches you about evil.
Why am I promoting my own sermons? Because there is SO much false teaching out there in books and online, stuff that is SO shallow and which will lead you astray, that I only want to direct you to a safe place. In addition, these sermons are the product of the Lord teaching ME hard, hard lessons about wickedness, about the false teachings and traditions of men laid on me in school, and I want the whole world to hear these things.
So, there it is. How do we avoid getting duped by wicked people again and again? Grow closer and closer and closer to Christ. Become more and more like Him. Pretty soon the darkness will sense His light in you and will depart rather than target you.

Col 1:9-14  And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  (10)  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;  (11)  being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;  (12)  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  (13)  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  (14)  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.



An Example of How an Abuser Ally tries to Creep in Among us+


The Worst Abusers are the Kind Who Parade as Christian Leaders+


  1. cindy burrell

    This is good stuff. And I don’t know if you’re interested, but I have a piece called, “Avoiding Dating Disasters,” for former abuse victims. I’m happy to share it, and it can be found here:

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks Cindy – your article is a good one for people to read.

  2. Amy

    Love this! When my ex left 10 years ago I still dreamed of the day I would find my prince charming and live happily ever after. I know a little corny I suppose, but I never stopped believing that I could find someone who would love me deeply and me him.
    And one day God brought such a man into my life. And come this November we will be married 8 years, wow! That still amazes me that it’s been that long.
    But I was very wary at the beginning of our relationship, actually, I didn’t even look at it like a relationship, but just someone I was getting to know as as friend. Period. I shared my whole messy story with him and he shared his. We talked, texted, wrote emails — really communicated and I made it clear from the beginning that I needed him to know my whole story and I needed to know his too.
    And I continued to hold him at arms length, assessing how he spoke to me, his actions and behaviors around me, and unlike my ex, there were no red flags.
    I also during that time read through the Psalms and found my worth in the Lord. I discovered who I was, by learning who God said I am. And I prayed for God to give me discernment and to keep my eyes wide open.
    Talking with other women who have divorced an abusive man, I find that we all have one thing in particular in common — we all want to be loved in a healthy way, we all want a healthy relationship and wonder if we will ever find someone that will treat us well.
    My advice is to be patient and wait on the Lord. His timing is best. Don’t rush into anything, learn to like your own company, and trust that in time, you will likely find love and a healthy relationship. And when you do find someone, trust your instincts and do NOT ignore any red flags.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Amy – good advice. Thank you. And you learned it the hard way like all of us.

  3. Praying Lady

    Your 10 principles are excellent, Pastor Crippen! Thank you for another encouraging and wisdom-filled article. I wish I had known these principles before I met my ex over 39 years ago. It would have saved me from 36 years of horrible abuse and heartache. However, I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus when I met my ex and that was the first open door to my ex being able to manipulate and abuse me. I was too forgiving, too nice and extremely naïve. I have learned a lot the hard way in almost 4 decades, but the most important event in my life happened when I gave my life to the Lord almost 33 years ago. Every bit of abuse I suffered and everything I learned from the Lord is now producing good in the lives of others. Praise God!

  4. sue

    Dear Pastor Crippen and Friends, boy-howdy, yer not exaggerating – there are alot of really wicked people out there.

  5. Norma

    “Grow closer and closer to Christ.” Great answer. That’s the truth in all things.

  6. walkinginlight

    Excellent information here to digest and use. Some of the worst abuse and persecution I have experienced in this life has come from people who call themselves “Christian”. I have learned through the years to never take some one at face value who claim to follow the Lord. I sit back and watch for what kind of fruit they have and also discernment will kick in. As for me looking for another man after my abuser is gone, will not happen. I told my daughter the last thing I would ever be thinking about is another man. It is a shame though as sometimes I wonder what a godly normal and healthy marriage would be like the way God designed it to be.

  7. This is a great list. I’m passing it on. It is very timely.
    As to your last point, I remember years ago when most everyone used cash, and worked in restaurants and handled a LOT of cash. After a while, most counterfeits were easy to spot because they felt different or something just seemed off under the finger tips. Then, of course, you looked at it more closely and saw where the difference was.
    People are like that. The more you handle Christ, the more you taste and see that the Lord is good, the easier it is to spot to fake. Pour yourself into Christ and his word. God may still allow the devil to hurt, but he’ll never be able to destroy.
    I think this is what the “whole armor of God” is about…

  8. Jami

    My life emphasizes #3. I was excited to wait until marriage, I had lived a few rough years before really finding Jesus and I put it all behind me. When I met my now husband, I was sure it was meant to be, until he didn’t want to wait. I remember being so disappointed, I thought I was going to be able to leave all that alone behind me, not find it at church. 10 years later, it’s the one thing I wish I could take back. That one decision has cost me and my marriage much, and now I can see how it was just the beginning. I am a stay at home mother of 4 almost 5, and my husband is emotionally non existent, he does not cherish or treasure me and I am constantly trying to figure out how to handle everything. I pray that one day I will get another chance to be loved by someone, but not until I can be strong enough to say no and stay locked in with the Lord.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Jami- thank you. Your story has value and wisdom for others. Christ is merciful and he has a way of setting captives free.

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