Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Marriage is Made for People, Not People for Marriage

The teaching of the church has compounded much of this hurt rather than alleviating it. Victims of continued abuse have been told they must stay married, and if they do get divorced, they have been told they cannot remarry until their former partner has died. And sometimes those who have divorced and remarried are told by their church that they must now divorce their new spouse because in God’s eyes they are still married to the person who abused or neglected them. Thus the church makes them a victim for a second time. (Instone-Brewer 2003, [Kindle] Location 1795)

One of our readers asked if we could post the following paragraphs from my book, A Cry for Justice*, pp202-4 as she found them so helpful.  So, here they are! Thanks to her for typing them up for us:

One of the irritants Christians often apply to the abuse victim’s wounds is the assumption that God would have every marriage preserved at all costs. This notion, coupled with the fantasy that “with just a little hard work we can put this thing back together,” has worked to enable hosts of abusers, and to intensify the suffering of their victims. Listen to the following Scripture:

Mark 2:23-28 “One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of man is lord, even of the Sabbath.

In Matthew’s parallel account, we also have this statement recorded:

Matthew 12:7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Christians, like these critics of Jesus, often embrace a traditional view of marriage that is just that – tradition. I do not mean the one-man, one-woman for life model that is normally intended when the term “traditional” is applied to marriage. The tradition in this case rather is the notion that man is made for marriage, not marriage for man. As the Pharisees had inverted God’s order for the Sabbath’s value and purpose, so Christians do the same in regard to marriage. This means that when an abuse victim comes to her pastor to reveal what her abuser is doing, the welfare of the victim is made subservient to the institution of marriage. But marriage was made for man! Marriage is a gift created by God for men and women to enjoy, not an ordinance to which people are to be enslaved at all costs.
What God desires, in the application of His law, is mercy. Yes, the Sabbath is to be observed, but it is for man’s sake, so that he might rest and refresh himself and enjoy God. The same is true for marriage. Therefore to insist that an abuse victim is to remain in her marriage “no matter what,” is to do what Jesus forbids: condemnation of the guiltless. And this is precisely what this book takes as a major thesis, namely, that the evangelical church has been condemning victims of abuse and withholding mercy from them.
Just as the Pharisee’s teaching about the Sabbath exceeded God’s Word and purpose and placed a huge burden upon people which they were never intended to have to bear, so it is with marriage in the teaching of many conservative, evangelical churches. The end result is sadly common – the guiltless victim is condemned for separating from and/or divorcing her abuser.
When man enslaves people to distortions of things God has intended for man’s good (like the Sabbath and marriage), Christ would have us set those people free! It was not God’s blessing of the Sabbath rest that Jesus opposed, but the twisted perversion of it imposed upon people by the Jewish leaders. In the same way, it is not the blessing of marriage as created by God for our blessing that we oppose but the wicked, twisted thing it becomes in the hands of evil people.

*Amazon Affiliate - See additional information here.


Marriage and Divorce – Getting it Right: A Sermon by Jeff Crippen


Will We Justify Child-Sacrifice to Baal?


  1. Stephanie

    Thank you Pastor Crippen for all you have done to help those of us who have been enslaved to an abusive marriage due to much false guilt being heaped upon us by the evangelical community and nouthetic counselors. Your books were instrumental in helping me to realize the freedom and mercy Christ gifted to me via his death. I am still working my way out of fear of man. But, on 9.29.19 I will celebrate my 3rd year out from under the abuse of my ex husband, who also happened to be a pastor at one time. I am so very thankful…it was a long 26 years! Peace is precious!

  2. Change Agent

    Thank you Pastor Crippen for rightly explaining the truth of Scripture. It is both inspiring and refreshing to hear. The phrase that comes to mind is Luke 24:32-
    They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us
    Every grace and strength to you.

  3. No one down here

    Right now, that is happening. I don’t know how the topics here are always so relevant… exact timing that matches what I’m facing at the time.
    I am continually surprised about the evil things said and done by the husband person. And yet, the church says… they believe we just have to forgive and put aside past hurts to the glory of God.
    I am done with that group of people. They are not my authority. I am so tempted to sign them all up for this blog roll…haha! pretty sure that would be pointless, though.

  4. ASevereMercy

    Do you have (or can you write) an article on when the abuser uses divorce to abuse/punish his wife?

    • Jeff Crippen

      ASevereMercy – I don’t have an article as such on that subject but I can tell you that it happens EVERY time divorce is filed. Abusers use the whole process then to wreak as much more suffering as they can.

      • E Manning

        Agree, it absolutely gets worse. I mistakenly thought it would not lessen and it only intensified. I suffered almost 20 years of physical, mental, and spiritual abuse. I went to the church for counsel many times switching churches and denominations (catholic, evangelical, non-denominational, lutheran, etc)…every single one gave me the same advice…”pray up your marriage”. I was quoted scripture “A wise woman builds her home a foolish one tears it down” over and over again they had me return to an abusive environment. He broke me until I was nothing more then a shell. I merely existed. I begged God to take me.
        I was imprisoned for 40+ years to ideologies, to roles I thought I was obligated to portray, and to beliefs that I was indoctrinate into. Always setting aside what I wanted, what I needed, what I desired, what I longed for…I was taught that none of that mattered. I did not matter.
        My ex was charming and charismatic, I very like-able guy. He could cry at the drop of hat, look solemn, etc. He was great at it. Most of the abuse was verbal. I remember one pastors wife laugh at me during one of our sessions and told me “that’s it?! Sister you need to grow thicker skin”.
        The last time he laid his hands on me was in 2012. In 2013, I finally found my “get out of jail” card…I caught him cheating. I immediately separated from him and filed for divorce and boy did that piss him off. He never ever expected me to leave him.
        We were in the courts for 3 1/2 years! He filed motion after motion against me. He opened up credit cards and took out numerous loans which translates into martial debt (another form of abuse). He almost left us homeless. My legal fees skyrocketed into the thousands ($35k to be exact). Divorce finalized late 2016. It is Sept 2018 and I am still trying to financially recover.
        We have a young child and he still tries to manipulate and talk down to me. I thank God that I am in such a good place that his words do not penetrate as they once did.
        I knew early on soon after our marriage and sought Biblical counsel. Had someone just said “it is okay to leave and divorce” I would not have endured so much loss and pain.
        THANK YOU Jeff for this blog, it has helped my healing in so many ways!

  5. writing my own story now

    Thank you so very very much for your blog and this post in particular. Reading this makes 100% perfect sense. This is the very angle I have been wrestling with for months … which is most important … the people IN a marriage or the covenant of the marriage itself. You have answered the ramblings of my mind. I was raised with the extreme conservative belief that God does not condone divorce for any reason. (With the understanding that Jesus’ exception of fornication did not equal adultery, but pre-marital sex during the Jewish betrothal period when the couple was considered ‘married’ yet not completely married … as in Mary & Joseph’s situation, which is why he was going to ‘put her away’ = ‘divorce’ her privately … as the jewish betrothal period was similar to, but not exactly like, our modern engagement.) That mouthful being said, with what you’ve written in this post and others, I know I can separate from my husband with a completely clear conscience after 31 years.
    I haven’t suffered as badly as many of the stories I’ve read in other comments on various posts, but the years have been bad enough that our five mostly-grown to grown sons range from being leery of his attempts of ‘doing better’ to having no contact. I was so completely sheltered when we married, and we’ve only had 2 consistent ‘friends’ in the last 10 years (only because I insisted our boys be part of a local homeschooling group, which H hated when I spent time on), that realizing what has been going on since the beginning has been a loooooong time coming. If it hadn’t been for him telling me five years ago that he wished we weren’t married, I don’t know how long I would have kept my head in the sand. Of course, now he denies he said that (even though he confirmed it a month later in front of some of the boys) which I’ve learned is also typical. It is so true about living in a fog, and I’m glad mine has finally cleared.
    You are also right about abusers not being true Christians. I cannot imagine what his response would be if I told him that! lol Of course, I haven’t mentioned anything about him being a narcissist (covert type) or emotional abuse or anything of the sort to him. I’m not stupid. I’ve been quite naive maybe, but I’m not stupid. I’ve only just been wrapping my head around this whole thing for 5 months now … but it’s like all the weird and bizarre puzzle pieces of the past 31 years have been falling into place. He’s said I’ve changed in the last five years (I wonder why!) and I think he’s getting desperate. I know he fears loosing me – although that sounds opposite from what it should. Ever since we were married he’s always voiced fears that I would leave him, but I always stood by him and took his cr*p. Now, not so much.
    Three years ago was his last temper tantrum – just 2 days after Thanksgiving. He trashed the kitchen (again), breaking dishes and causing general mayhem, and our youngest (13 at the time) even bailed out of his bedroom window. First time I ever raised my voice back, though. What’s permissible for him is NOT for me (but I’ve always known that), and he told me to get out. So I did. (Which he did NOT expect – not in a million years. It was my personal policy in my marriage to never leave – especially with children in the house. My mother had done that once when I was 8 – I swore I never would. But my boys were no longer little, and I had never been TOLD to leave.) And while I packed some clothes, he made sure to take the credit card from my wallet so I’d have no funds. He didn’t know I took some cash with me that I had secreted away. Long story short, he expected me to be home by the next day at the latest – he had no idea I was states away. I didn’t even tell my grown sons where I went although they helped and we kept in contact. He didn’t even contact me until the 4th day – texted he was sorry along with his excuses that it wasn’t really ‘him’ (yeah, right). Didn’t contact me again till almost 2 weeks – only then did he ask me to come home. Never said a word about it after I got home, either.
    Six months later he was working out of state and our DIL of just a year died (& had an emergency c-section to save the baby she was carrying). It was 6 days before life support was removed, and he never came home – not even for the memorial service. We lost a granddaughter 3 months later and 3 months after that (again, right after Thanksgiving) we went on a 4-wheeler outing as a family. He wrecked the one we were on and I broke my shoulder when I threw my arm up to keep it from landing on me. The boys and their friend were all around me – are you ok, are you ok????? – they could all tell I was hurt – and HE was behind me telling me how it was my fault we flipped because I didn’t do whatever. It took him over a year to even say ‘I’m sorry’ about that one, and doing things around the house and for me for the 6-8 week recovery time was grudgingly done. I couldn’t lie down and we had no recliner, so I was gingerly making do with the couch. One of my boys had to go out and buy a recliner for me to sleep because he wouldn’t. Then he complained about how much it cost and the quality and on and on. He never even paid the two $200 medical bills (that were in my name, of course), after saying for months that he would. When I mentioned it about 6 mo later, and how it would be bad for my credit, he literally stood there and laughed to my face.
    so yeah … I finally know what he is. Unfortunately, the last 5 months he’s also been playing mr nice guy. Fixing up the house, repainting the bedroom, helping the 2 friends we have more than normal. A couple of the boys (not all) have hope due to these things. I know better. Not sure what exactly the motive is … hoovering or setting up flying monkeys … the good part is that when whatever goes down, goes down, my sons will have my back and will verify my story if need be.
    I know I’ve played the part he scripted for me quite well over the years, but now I’m beginning to write my own story. And he hates that. That also means, though, that I’ve had to face my part in hurting my boys, and that breaks my heart. And it angers me how Christians can ask you ‘has he ever hit you?’ and be satisfied when the answer is ‘no’ … regardless of any emotional damage. I loved another lady’s response to that … YES! with words!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Writing my own story- THANK YOU very very much for writing and sharing this with us. I am SO glad you are growing wise and strong and I am also very sorry that you have suffered so long. This is a great evil among us and the Lord hates it. My entire concept of the visible local church has been radically changed. I realize now that most people who claim to be Christians- aren’t. I mean how can they be born again and yet defend wolves among the flock like your abuser?
      May the Lord bring you into the fullness of His freedom and protect you and your children. Thank you again very much.

  6. jessicanotadoormat

    My abusive husband knew that I was getting financially independent and sabotaged my job by harassing me at work and doing everything he could to affect my work performance. He even threatened to talk to my boss and say I was having an affair on employer property (knowing full well I am not). My employer had enough and I received a pink slip and every interview goes great…until my reference is called. He gloats about this and is pleased that once again, I have to beg him for money.

    • Jeff Crippen

      jessicanotadoormat – I am very sorry you have been targeted by such an evil man. This tactic is common. I know numbers of women whose career was sabotaged by their abuser. That doesn’t make it more pleasant to experience however.

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