Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

How Many Times Should Abuse be Tolerated?

I recently heard a speaker in a DVD series on domestic abuse say that abuse should not be tolerated “more than one time.”  This poses a good question.
Let’s limit a hypothetical example to physical abuse just for our purposes here. [You all know I trust that domestic abusers do not always use physical assault as a tactic, especially the “Christian” ones].  Slapping across the face, knocking the victim down, that kind of thing. I may be wrong here in not considering all kinds of abuse – which are equally evil – but I am just trying to clarify our illustration. Here is the question then – How many times should a woman (for example) forgive her husband for slapping her across the face?  By “forgive,” I mean, he says he is sorry and she says ok, and she stays with him – end of story.

I have a suspicion that the idea of “letting bygones be bygones once” is not going to sit very well with many of you.  I mean, what does it say when a husband, let’s say one month into the marriage, slaps his wife in the face?  Immediately questions about the context start to arise, right?  What was she doing?  What was he doing? Was it a mutual argument?  Was she verbally abusing him and he just lost it?  Could be.  But as we know, slapping someone in the face just isn’t justified (well, unless like in the movies someone is losing their mind and endangering the whole mission to save the world so you slap them back into their senses and they say thank you). Let’s say it is a slap delivered as a true abusive power-control punishment to instill fear.  How many times should the victim let that happen before taking action?
Some people say once.  I have heard other victims, in hindsight, say “the first time it happens, get out of there.  It will only get worse.”
What do you think? Here is a very good answer from an abuse survivor I know:

The estranged only hit me once. About two years into the marriage, he backhanded me across the face during an argument. As my ears rang, he apologized profusely, and said ‘you know I’d never hurt you, right?’ Then proceeded to inform me not to cross him because  ‘if I pushed him, he wouldn’t be accountable for his actions’ and ‘once he started, he would not stop’
I should have walked out the door. I did not and I never told anyone. Now he says it never happened.
He never hit me like that again but he pushed me into corners and refused to let me out, pinned me against the kitchen counter while he groped me, pushed me backwards across the room while calling me his servant or his concubine. He climbed on me when I tried to nap and held me down beneath the covers until i screamed all ‘in fun’ and refusing to stop while I pleaded. He grabbed my leg above the knee and called it ‘the horse eating the apple’– when he didn’t like something I said. He poked me with one finger in the side, over and over until I bruised. And I’m just getting started.
We lived under the threat of violence at all times, every day. He said we had ‘no right’ to be afraid of him.
I see that first backhand now as a cold, calculated maneuver to put me in my place and instill fear. Once is too much.

And still another friend who survived abuse says:

How did I ever let him get away with the physical abuse and pretend it never happened. I would never stand for anything like it now. I think it was my desire to keep things as normal as possible. I believe a woman should leave after the first attack.

Conclusion? Once is one time too many. And in fact non-physical abuse, once it is identified as a pattern evidencing a sense of entitlement to power and control, is one time too many. As I say over and over again – abusers never change. A marriage to an abuser does not need to be fixed, it needs to be ended.


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  1. GladI’mout

    Thank-you so much for this Pastor Crippen! I posted this on two FB support groups for Christian women in confusing, abusive marriages. We need to hear this.

  2. walkinginlight

    And these men who are children of the devil, deceive with masterful trickery that only Satan could muster up to get their bride to the altar. After that the horror show begins. I think most of these abusers besides being on a power trip are misogynists. God has a special place for these evil dark creatures!

  3. IrisJane

    I have tears reading these comments. I’ve actually been thinking about this topic quite a bit lately, wishing I had left after one horrible incident, but stayed, always believing he was going to ‘see the light’ and understand what he did was so incredibly wrong.
    I was never physically assaulted as these (and so many) dear ladies were, but my physical abuse was through neglect. One particular time, the one I’ve been thinking of so much recently, I was paralyzed and in excruciating pain due to a misguided medical treatment I was receiving that had gone terribly wrong, (details removed to protect commenter’s identity)
    Well this particular time, I was laying on the living room floor unable to move and the pain was so bad I could barely breath, and I was scared to death. We were supposed to go out with friends (his, always his) that evening, but of course I couldn’t…so he went anyway, leaving me on the living room floor, unable to move at all. I was still there when he got back in the morning after drinking all night, and he became so defensive when I confronted him about it all, never owning up to what he did, let alone feeling bad about it.
    That was the worst, but one of many covertly abusive forms of neglect that happened over the years, I so desperately wish I had left then. But when you’re ill, have no job, and your church preaches all about love, forgiveness, and sacrifice, not repentance…and when you can’t truly wrap your head around someone being so utterly cruel, you stay, praying it will be the last time because how could anyone continue being so blatantly evil.
    This message is such a gift and should be the gold standard in all premarital counseling sessions, as well as preached from every pulpit across the nation. Slowly but surely the paradigm shift is taking place and eyes are being opened.
    May your ministry continue to be blessed Pastor Crippen, thank you so much for all you’re doing!
    BTW, I’ve changed my name to IrisJane, in honor of the scapegoat that this family abused for years, until she died at a young age from neglect of heart, soul, and body. It’s not her real name, but the one she had always dreamed of naming a little girl if she ever had one. She loved Irises.

    • Amy

      Oh my goodness, how evil to leave you laying there all night in pain. This actually brought back a memory of something similar my ex did years ago on Christmas Eve. We were putting together a train track for our youngest son and I moved just wrong to cause a pinch nerve in my neck and upper back to zing down my back. It left me paralyzed for a moment and then unable to move without excruciating pain.
      I told him what had happened and without looking up he just said, “Yep, that happens to me all the time”. No empathy, no nothing. He finished the track and went to bed. I could barely sleep all night because of the pain and of course, our boys were up at the break of dawn to check out what Santa had brought them. I tried hard to be cheerful for my boys all the while I was in tremendous pain, and my ex? He ignored me the whole day. He even got up and left the room while I was still opening my presents.
      Thinking of this just makes my blood boil that he treated me and his children like this!
      These men are pure evil. They are not Christians. And yet the church continues to preach how we are to forgive and forget and not even think of divorce. Craziness!
      I too am so thankful for the truth that Pastor Crippen shares.

  4. Stormy

    Iris Jane the evil monsters must all read from the same playbook. When I was sick the abuser overdosed me on cold medicine so he could hang out with his best friend.
    I always thought (if he could) he would withhold pain medication from me while giving birth. Just to watch me suffer.

  5. It is truly shocking what so many have endured based on the desire to do the right, godly thing.
    A few months into my first marriage during a minor disagreement, my then-husband used an expletive to try to shut me down, and when I told him he couldn’t speak to me that way, he shouted profanity at me. Not knowing what to do, I retreated to the bathroom and closed the door behind me. A few minutes later he came up to the door and, rather than apologizing, he said in a low voice, “You’re going to have to come out sometime.” I gave in, let it go and rationalized that episode away, setting the stage for an incremental descent into 20 years of insanity.
    It seems that abuse often begins with an initial “shock-and-awe” component, where abusers respond to what should be a rational conversation or situation in an over-the-top manner and then either blame the victims for their actions or insist that the event never happened. It is a cruel test, a training ground designed to establish an understanding and even an expectation of more of the same – or worse.
    It should be understood that the first time they choose to abuse may also be the last time. The smallest measure of wickedness should not be accommodated in God’s sacred institution.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Very wise insights here Cindy. Thank you. This all needs to be part of any pre-marriage counseling so that the abuser in disguise realizes his tactic to come is already exposed and so that the potential victim has wisdom up front to see such abuse for what it is and to realize she can leave immediately.

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