Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

She's marrying a sociopath and there is nothing anyone can do about it

The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. (1 Timothy 5:24)

There is a young lady, 19 years old, a Christian, raised in a conservative church, wants to serve the Lord…and she is engaged to be married. She has great plans for a Godly, Christian home. Her fiance, well, she met him in church. Everyone thinks the world of him and so does she. No doubt the Lord is really going to use this fellow for His Kingdom. Maybe as a pastor or a missionary even. Even the pastor thinks so.
But none of this dream life is going to happen. Why? Because this young lady is about to marry a sociopath, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. Oh, we could try, but no one would believe our warnings, including the bride to be. If we were members of the same church as her, we might well find ourselves under heavy fire for daring to say such horrid things about this young man.
I wish this scenario were fiction, but it isn’t. It happens over and over again to young ladies who just knew that the best place to find a husband was in church.
More than once abuse survivors have written to me and said something like this: “My Christian upbringing in both my parents’ home and in my church home totally set me up as a target for an abuser. I was taught to be quiet and submissive, especially when I got married. I was taught that God hates divorce. I was taught that forgiveness always means reconciliation of relationships. I was taught that by my behavior and attitude I could change and “fix” my future husband when he sinned. And though I heard a lot about sin, I was taught that pretty much everyone who attended our church and said they believe in Jesus was to be considered a real Christian, no questions asked. These things and more set me up and put me on the abuser’s radar.”
The fault is not with the Bible. It isn’t with Christ. It is with our failure to be wise as Christ calls us to be.
I can see it playing itself out. There is this young lady. She is going to marry this guy who she thinks is the cat’s meow. And she is pumped. The attention he has shown her is…exhilarating. Takes her breath away. She looks down at her finger and there it is, the ring! Camelot, here we come. Oh, there have been a couple of times when she was rather taken aback at how stone cold his eyes were when she annoyed him, or that time he got soooo angry with her. But she dismisses these red-flag abuser warning signs as “human frailties” we all wrestle with. She will be able to help him overcome. She’s sure of it.
But what is going to happen? And it is going to happen. She is going to marry this guy. There is nothing anyone can do now to stop it. She is going to marry him and possibly even as soon as the honeymoon, she is going to find a stranger staring back at her. Who is this man? Now he has her. The mask comes off. *God hates divorce* — there is no getting out of this! Not for ten years, not for twenty years, not for thirty years. Most typically it will take decades of abuse before she begins to reach some clarity about what has truly been happening to her. It isn’t her fault. I am not blaming her by any means. We’ve all been duped by these serpents.
But how we wish she would just listen to us now, before it is too late.
Churches, Christians, pastors, elders!! We must STOP closing our eyes to evil among us in our churches! We must be done with this foolish naivete about wickedness. We must learn about sociopaths and psychopaths and narcissists and abusers and we must become expert — wise as serpents the Bible calls it — in discerning the tactics of these vermin. They are oppressing the sheep that the Lord has charged us with protecting. And even worse, if that sheep ever calls out to us for help, she most typically doesn’t receive any. [NOTE: I actually wrote this challenge some years ago when I was still somewhat hopeful that churches and pastors would listen. I left it as written, but now I speak to abuse victims because I konw they will hear me].
What if? What if this young lady, about to give herself to an emissary of the devil… what if she had been raised in a church that regularly taught her and everyone else about evil? What if she had been told about the traits and typical tactics of the abuser? What if she had been warned to be on watch for “Mr. Charming”? What if the pre-marriage counseling in her church included assigned reading about abuse, and what if in that counseling the pastor talked about abuse and how an abuse victim has every right before God to divorce her abuser?
What if?

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17 Comments

  1. wingingit

    The church would answer those what ifs with….”What? Teach about divorce before the marriage has even begun? That just gives every couple an easy out if things get hard at all!”
    The pervasive belief is that by mentioning divorce, at all, we somehow make otherwise good Christians rush off to court to divorce for insignificant things.
    Like those silly people who can’t say the word cancer, lest some invisible evil descend on them, so they look around nervously and whisper, “Did you hear? So and So has (more nervous looking around) c – a – n – c – e – r.”
    Like the demons can’t put it on you if you spell it…lol.
    Until good Christians stop being superstitious about talking about evil, it will continue to hold the power to keep victims in bondage.

    • Krikit

      Goodness yes, this! The church is so full of superstition, as these you mention.

  2. rachael

    Exactly, to the letter, what happened to me.

  3. Riley M

    This is so, so good. Thank you!
    May I comment further on the part about growing up in a conservative Christian home, where she was taught about quiet submission and forgiveness? Because this was me. My story. For 25 years. And in my current work as victim advocate I find this story over and over again. Most of the victims/survivors I talk to come from conservative Christian homes. Most of those homes were authoritarian in nature. An absolute rule of the parent over the child. The daughters had to grow up with unquestioning obedience. They weren’t allowed autonomy. They weren’t allowed boundaries. So it was really hard to even recognize the abuse, because so much of it looked a lot like what they grew up with. May I suggest that authoritarian/patriarchal structure of Christian parenting also needs to change? Children need to understand boundaries and autonomy, and have some kind of agency in their own lives.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Riley M – thank you. Truth.

      • OMGoodness! If I had only known what I am learning now! In our case what I have experienced is hard to label with such a strong word as “abuse”, and truth be told, I am guilty of some of it. Another website clued me into “complimentary toxicity” due to meshing family-of-origin problems, which pretty much explains EVERYthing not only in the marriage but also in most interactions with both extended families over the years. I don’t know if I would have listened once I “gave my heart away”, but boy oh boy I wish this stuff had been part of my training prior to that time. Mutual and complimentary though our toxicity may be, now that he has been kicked out of a total of four churches, due fundamentally to a persistent habit of denigrating other people (an important part of his PK heritage), I wish I had been taught about all this stuff…. that “being right does not = righteousness”, that isolation is a red flag, that intensity does not equal depth, that just because a person has personal piety and a lot of correct doctrine doesn’t mean they understand or interact with God or people better, that someone’s Christianity should never be called into question, about it being best to “put the best construction on” another person’s behavior, the disconnects with reality (flat-earthers being the clearest) and many other things that I’m just learning. Between my toxic engineer parents and the toxic religious parents-in-law, we all missed out on the benefits of what psychology and psychiatry could have offered! We all would have been better off if I had stuck to my youthful intuition that I should not get married lest I be like my mother- instead, I married my mother and he kinda, well, married his father. As I said, OMGoodness, I wish I had been taught about this stuff!

        • Jeff Crippen

          Nita- thank you for these wise insights. I know exactly what you are saying. Been there.

    • Laura

      This is heartbreaking. This is me, except I was 30. I started to realize within weeks of marriage that I’d married into a lie of addiction and cruelty. Everything I learned growing up set me up for disaster. The premarital counseling solidified it: Never tell my family or anyone who will “side with me” about his failures. No marriage is perfect, we all have faults. (And yes, I understood raging addiction, cruelty, and refusal to seek employment, as faults that I was, as a good wife, supposed to cover for. So I did.) And since divorce or separation was NOT an option, I didn’t. I’m so grateful I found your books and the Lord started opening my eyes.
      I’m separated now. Even that step means that I’m castigated because I’m a home wrecker. It’s been horrific. And incredibly freeing.

  4. Joan

    Wow. That is exactly my story.

  5. eagleovercomer

    🙁

  6. Innoscent

    “Me Too”!
    Educated by an abusive (non Christian) father, siblings divided, got converted to Christ, received no instruction by my church, met charming ‘Christian’ man, red flags were the ‘norm’ to me, and my Christ-like Love was going to fix it all step by step.
    The What If aren’t on the church leaders’ radar, but the Whens. When you love like Christ, when you overlook evil and forgive, when you persevere in faith, when you submit, when you… when, when, when…
    The leaders won’t go near any Ifs.. and are unfaithful watchmen on the wall of Zion. They will have to give account of the many casualties because of their neglect of souls, especially young women… a cemetery of abused victims.

  7. Jane

    I love this. Thank you for writing it. I was a devoutly Christian girl who loved the Lord and loved the Bible. But I married a child molester I met in my church’s singles group. It took me many years to get the courage to file for divorce. It was the hardest thing — I’d ever done. Why was it hard? Because my church didn’t speak of the necessity of divorce in these cases. All divorce was treated as a personal failure, and I was a perfectionist. I was not one of THOSE women who gave up easily. Of course, I should have walked away immediately rather than trying harder, but no one ever said that would be okay.

  8. anh

    My story to the “T”, I was 19 and even called him my “Prince Charming” not realizing how much of an act it was until it was too late. The red flags surely were there but as you stated, I wasn’t taught to discern evil but to dismiss “weakness” because we are “all sinful”. My God, there’s so much work to be done in the church. We oppress our own in the name of the Lord and twist scripture to support it. My heart is so grieved over my experience (which I’m working to end) but also so many others.

  9. M

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU for writing and for advocating. I pray that the hearts, minds and eyes of counselors, pastors and Christians will be opened to at least accept the existence of the charming evil that has traumatized and destroyed too many souls… and to have the humility to understand that the truth is not always as they perceive, their knowledge does not cover all, their seemingly right answers for sheep do not always apply when there are wolves in sheep’s clothing to be accounted for…
    If a “helping” person opens their eyes and learns, however, it may mean acknowledging that they themselves have abetted and even added to abuse, or giving up the comfortable and prideful certainty of having clear answers and judgment. That’s a lot to swallow. And it is a call to action and advocacy. So much easier to just close the eyes, ignore the victim claiming these things (maybe blame her, and just call her crazy– the abuser would love that!) and return to comfort. After all, all a hidden abuser asks is that we do nothing and forget.
    Thank you for keeping your eyes open, and calling out to others.

  10. twbtc

    Thank you for this posting, I re-read it today as I work through learning of new betrayals. What you wrote about was me when I married the husband I met at church, not as a young adult, but later in life. Sometimes it felt like people came out of the woodwork with data after I fled the marriage to get away from his hideous abuse, each with their story of the red flags and /or his known abuse, including to children. I asked some of them why didn’t you say anything to me – I had no idea and had believed his stories – they seemed to go along with him?!!! I was floored when I heard “Christians” stating things such as: “you’re a private person”, “we thought you knew”, “I tried to tell his last wife and it didn’t go well” “we suspected he was when he showed no emotion in killing animals” “you seemed so happy, I didn’t want to upset you”, and on and on and on. Completely jaw dropping – these were only a few.

    Came to find out the pastors had histories with him and his various angry and controlling ways, actually many churches did. This would have steered me 100% the other direction in dating – not having any idea it was very hard to know since the others looked they other way acted as if everything was just great. It was disheartening that most of these people covered for him, church family, friends alike – and didn’t own it or see that perhaps they should have spoken up. The silver lining was that a few tried to speak up after the fact – for that, I am grateful. This has been a tough lesson about the evil disguises that satan’s fools use – we must speak up when we see our friend/family going to marry, or even date someone who we know or even suspect is satan’s servant.

    (This comment was posted by “Now Free”. The original comment was lost while updating the backend and so I am reposting the comment under my name, twbtc.)

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