Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

"You Need to Forgive Him/Her" – Really?

Mat 5:6-12  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  (7)  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  (8)  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  (9)  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  (10)  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (11)  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  (12)  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Here, the Lord Jesus gives us a description of those who are blessed. Those who are truly His people and who have great reward in heaven. They are peacemakers and they are merciful. But they also hunger and thirst for righteousness. When they strive for peace and when they show mercy, their actions do not contradict their desire for what is right. In fact, they are courageous in their stance for righteousness. So much so that they are persecuted by the wicked.
Now, with that background, what do you think of someone who comes up to you and says:

You need to forgive Joe or Sally or….whoever

I have heard this line many times, and no doubt so have most all of you. And I want to tell you – every single time I have heard it from someone, that person has turned out to be either an exceedingly naive person ignorant of the real truths of Scripture, or an out and out wicked reviler parading as a Christian. Every time. Without fail.

Now think this through carefully. You are a Christian. You are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Here are your qualities as a new creation in Christ:

Gal 5:22-23  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23)  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

If you need to forgive someone, do you really think that you are going to need to be told by another person? When forgiveness is right, do you not see that the Spirit of Christ in us will lead us to that forgiveness? And when the kind of “forgiveness” being laid upon us is NOT right, do you not see that the Spirit in us will move us to understand that? Is this not how Christ leads His people? By His Spirit in them?
Therefore, I suggest to you that whenever some “brother” comes up to you and starts telling you that you need to “forgive” someone (how much of this is laid upon us by “biblical counseling”?), but in fact you have not sensed any desire of your own to “forgive” as this person intends you to (ie, reconcile with a wicked person, not require that the evil one suffer consequences, etc), immediately you can know that the person is just plain guilting you with a load of false guilt.
See it? Understand?
Yes, we are required by the Lord to forgive even our enemies. But they are still our enemies! So the sense in which He would have us forgive them is not to pretend that we are buddies again even when the person has not repented. No. He means that we don’t seek personal vengeance upon them. And if we see them injured along the road we are not going to pass them by without helping them.
But this is not what that “fine saintly Christian sister” means when she comes up to you and says, “you need to forgive your abusive husband.” No. What she means is that you must listen to her, because she is speaking for the Lord, and HE through her is telling you that you need to reconcile/forget/give hugs, etc. But why would the Lord speak to you through such a person? Will you not know by the leading of His Spirit in you what to do? What “forgiveness” in this case looks like? That hungering for justice and righteousness is proper?
So don’t listen to these people who actually, it could be argued, are false prophets claiming the Lord has sent them with His message when He has not. “You need to forgive…..”.  Oh, really? That’s quite interesting because that is not what the Lord is telling me, and I think that if He wants me to know something, He is going to let me know directly by His Spirit and His Word.


Be Like Jesus? – Well, Ok then


When the Abuser is One of Your Children – Mothers, take Care


  1. Amy

    So much truth! When my abusive then-husband walked out in ’09, I was told I needed to forgive, forget and reconcile. And when I chose to divorce that abusive man who had destroyed me and his sons for 20 years, I was told how unforgiving and bitter I was.
    My counselor worked hard to help me understand that forgiving did not equal reconciliation, it was simply to hand that person over to God to be dealt with and for me to let go so I wouldn’t become bitter and hard hearted.
    Forgiveness is a process I think and if someone is forcing us to forgive immediately that is a red flag to me that they are ignorant of not only abuse but what true forgiveness is.

  2. TJ

    Yes! Yes!
    Some very beautiful Biblical words have actually become “trigger” words for me because of the way they have been twisted beyond recognition. “Forgiveness” is one of those triggers that often give me panic attacks. “Forgiveness” is a beautiful word, an awesome concept in its true meaning, but when most people speak of forgiveness, they actually mean that you need to unconditionally accept an unrepentant abusive person without conditions, without restriction, without accountability, without limits. Try to confront an abuser’s behavior, set any sort of boundaries with him, or have no contact with him, and there’s a chorus of “You need to forgive. You need to unconditionally love him. You need to give him grace. You need to not be so bitter or negative. You are being unChristlike.”
    I loathe the oh-so-pious memes that are frequently shared at Facebook that say things like “Pray for a heart that forgives the worst….” or “Forgive him even if he never says he’s sorry.” This sort of advice empowers the abuser and keeps his victim in the abuse. It is completely unBiblical.

  3. Change Agent

    Forgiveness creates boundaries it does not ignore them. Dr Townsend aptly shares in his book on boundaries that it is better to accept those who honestly fail you rather than those who dishonestly deny hurting you with no intention of doing better. When you do not assert boundaries with those people you are fostering harm to them and yourself. Forgiveness does not entail creating opportunities for others to continue to subject you to abuse. Let go of the toxic relationships and dysfunctional connections that kept you imprisoned. Do not let others manipulate you back into abuse through guilt. Divorce can be a mercy. I am a grateful recipient (almost 7 years).

  4. walkinginlight

    Excellent reminder that we do not need another person coming to us to tell us “what to do”. Since we have one mediator between us and God, Christ our Lord. These “advisors” seem to appoint themselves as a persons conscience. This circumstance reminds me of the Charismatic hoopla where “prophets” control people by uttering nonsense over their lives.

  5. Change Agent

    The truth is forgiveness is not reconciliation. Reconciliation requires forgiveness but forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Forgiveness lays the groundwork for reconciliation it does not short circuit the process involved in healthy relationship building. Jesus’ sacrifice opened the door for all to be forgiven but the the ministry of reconciliation requires acknowledgement of sin and commitment to work towards relational intimacy, growth and development. I can forgive without returning to abuse. I forgive and let go of the dysfunction and abuse that tries to hold me captive.

  6. R

    [This is an excellent comment and we thank R for sharing it. We did some editing only because we did not want really identifying facts to be published, for her protection. Thank you very much, R]
    I think the word forgive is misleading. We are supposed to forgive them in our heart. But that does not mean maintain a relationship. Nor does it mean forgive the financial debt. Forgive just means we stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake. We need to recognize them for who they truly are. I have been told not to talk about my abuse because it hurts my children. My children are [adults] and I don’t want to hurt them. But I have been told by my counselor to talk about the abuse. Since the mental abuse was the most devastating. Since I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t talk about my experiences around them.
    But if I mention something that happened to other family members sometimes they say that is in the past. Yes it is in the past. [Moderator’s note: I doubt they would say it is in the past if a murderer who killed his victim 40 years ago were now identified by DNA. Their logic is foolishness]
    And I am trying to remind myself how dangerous he is. I lived in denial for a long time. I like to look at the silver lining. In order to survive living with him. My mental perception had to twist and I had to redefine words. Also he redefined words for me. I never understood what a narcissistic personality disorder was. I didn’t even hear the term until after our divorce when the counselor read through our custody evaluation report. IF she had not told me to read the book about the Borderline Mother and Why does he do that. Scriptures do say we are about truth and noble and right. IF I cover his sin and hide it. I am not helping him. Plus I am enabling him to remain in his sin.
    Each lie was told to get what he wanted. Our mentors or friends from church had to point out he was manipulating and lying. I thought people were misinterpreting things he had said. But my parents and I were very naive.
    BUT my point is. I do forgive him. But I need to remember the truth so I do not become his victim again. Everyone’s ideas of Forgiveness Looks different. But for me it was never resolved because no one ever knew the truth. I am not supposed to talk about it because I am a Christian. That is not true. I need to process and express my feeling and come to grips with what to do and how to respond to my familiy and my kids. The fact that the family wants peace and believes wrong. is a problem. I want peace too. I want justice and I want to feel safe. I see a counselor. I have PTSD and it gets triggered by injustice and lies or manipulation. I see my adult child following in my footsteps.
    But forgiveness does not mean hide the wrong they have done. God is very big on repentance. Which means turn the other way. Repent defined is to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing. Saying sorry is not making an amends. Not when you continue to go back to court and create more lies.. Accountability and recognition that I am a sinner is part of repenting. Therefore the offender would need to do the same. i am really grateful for this information. So many people don’t understand that some one would purposely lie and try to drive a wedge between people. But my ex husband was all about control and power. I am grateful that I get to vent on here. It is fine if you want to erase most of my comment. I see a counselor once a week and I don’t really get to share when I get triggered. But It is nice to have people point out the truth about forgiveness. Forgive does not mean reconcile and expose your self to more abuse. I just wish more people where wiser. Giving advice and opinion about how they think Gods word should be interpreted into my life is unhealthy. Many reasons held me in my marriage and this was one of them.

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