Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Boys' Clubs in the Church

Numbers 27:1-7 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.  And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.” Moses brought their case before the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them.

Men are men and women are women. The Lord created us male and female. This fallen world in rebellion against the Lord actively perverts sexuality, and that to mankind’s ruin. Sexual immorality of all kinds is to be rejected by every Christian. Clearly that is God’s will for us – our sanctification.
Yet there is another form of distortion when it comes to male and female, and we find this example not only in the world but in our churches. I call it the boys’ club. Most of us experienced it when we were kids. No girls allowed signs posted on the treehouse or bedroom door. To be fair, I think I have seen some no boys allowed signs too! There is an early rivalry between the sexes which gets even more complex when puberty hits.

We see examples of the boys’ club in the news and in this world every day. Recently of course you have seen it in all its ugliness in the NFL – Ray Rice and all that. Ray and his teammates, his buds and bros have been and remain an example (with a few exceptions) of maleness gone wrong. How are women spoken of in an NFL locker room? Probably the same way they are spoken of in college locker rooms and high school locker rooms. And if they get out of line, well, you take them down just like you do an opponent on the field. It’s easier than in a game though because there are no refs and no rules – and for the most part, as we have seen lately, no penalties.
Boys’ clubs, locker rooms, and the church.
This boys’ club/locker room mentality toward women is present in most local churches. It functions as a paradigm through which Scripture is filtered – and distorted. Men are men. Women are women. But this is equated with “men have privilege, women are inferior.” Following God is for men. Following men is for women. After all, men are the pastors, men are the elders, men do the praying, men are the husband/father priests of their families (or so goes this mentality).
Now, whatever your personal take is on what Scripture teaches us about the roles of men and women in the local church, some serious thinking on your part will reveal that the boys’ club most likely exists in your church. To a much greater extent in some than in others – but it is quite pervasive. In the church, men are primary and women are secondary. [We can’t get into the other side of this issue, i.e., when the girls’ club mentality crops up in a church. Some people think this is the solution to the boys’ club. It isn’t. Because remember, we are all – both male and female – born into this world as sinners. We all in our sinful flesh desire power and control for our own kind].
Common examples of the boys’ club are usually touted under such titles as “men’s retreat,” or “men’s ministry,” or “men for Christ,” or, well, “Promise Keepers.” There are many more such names I am sure. And the thing sounds good on the surface. Wives see their husbands off to these events praying and hoping that some miracle will take place there to transform their husband. What could be wrong with something so noble? I will tell you. They usually have a speaker – a man – who is supposed to be some walking, talking example of what a Christian saint should be. He’s a jock, or used to be. He pastors a “dynamic” church. His wife has written books and so has he. And he tells these men gathered there how to be men. How to be warriors. Courageous. How to be…well…just like him. How to hang with the guys in prayer groups.
Now, the more neurotic men, that is to say, men with a conscience and who sincerely want to follow Jesus Christ and love their wives and children, how do they come away from boys’ club meetings like this? I can tell you. I am a neurotic. They come away feeling defeated. “How can I ever measure up to that? I never was any good at athletics. My company, my church, my career isn’t blossoming like that guy’s is.” So he goes home defeated and feeling condemned.
But then there are men who leave such events “empowered.” Oh yeah. The Spirit of the Lord has come to them. They have a role now and they gladly step up to the plate. The problem is, the role as they see it is a complete distortion of Scripture. For this kind, it is about power and control over women.  It is about guys being guys and women, well they better learn what God says about being women. Somehow, “husbands love your wives” gets tweaked in this boys’ club climate and in the mind of this latter kind of man. God’s Word gets morphed into some mutation of truth that exalts the man over the woman.
I don’t like men’s ministries for the most part. What I have found as a pastor in the last decade or so is that because Scripture presents both men and women as Christians, full heirs of the promise in Christ, my ministry to them is really the same. I teach both men and women (and young people as well) with the realization that they all need the same thing – God’s Word. I don’t teach our women’s study some simple, shallow, “how to make your hubby happy” nonsense from a publishing house giant. Nope. I teach them Romans. I teach them biblical theology. Why? Because they are saints, fellow heirs in Christ, indwelt by the same Spirit every Christian is led by.
I am sure that our readers can help me explain the operations and mentality of this boys’ club thing in our churches. It is a difficult and slippery thing to pin down. But I suppose what I am trying to say is that so often what parades as “men’s ministry” in our churches simply ends up promoting the boys’ club mentality. And that is bad news for women in general, and abuse victims in particular.


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  1. melanie

    Interesting read. What are your thoughts?

  2. Deborah

    Thank you for this article! It’s a breath of fresh air. Having been raised in conservative churches my whole life, I’ve seen the “boys club” and their condescension for decades. Thank you for seeing it also and for helping me to see that I’m not crazy. I so appreciate your ministry. It’s a lifeline for me right now.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you for the encouragement to us as well!

      • Free

        The Christian “men’s” prayer group were some of the abuser’s biggest allies. They literally deceived, manipulated and harbored the lies right alongside him either by their silence or their attempts to be the flying monkeys. And…. the stood by and watched as he torched me after I fled for my life – yes…. fled…. The silver lining is, every day….. the abuser is no longer my problem, he is theirs. When I see they are caught up in the confusing and contradictory web of deception, in a small but affirming way, I am so glad the Lord helped me break away…..and he did in the truest sense of the word, set me free…. I am, we are, free.

        • Jeff Crippen

          Free!! Yes. I have seen those groups many times. The are disguised by pious “ministry” names but they are evil.

        • DC

          This is so very sadly true and I’ve lived it, been at the cruel end of what these so called mens ministry meetings perpetuate. Under the guise of serving God it just leads to exactly what you have described,the men are superior attitude, which can ruin the lives of women and children. Thankyou for this validating and enlightening post because it resonates so deeply with my experience and helps me again to know I am not crazy. I never did understand it and of course the abuser still is “covered” by the “ministry” even though I left the church, even though I tried to get help. The boys club sure do stick together! Thanks to your work Pastor Jeff and the work of other advocates I am hopeful for a future away from the abuse.

  3. Innoscent

    That’s so true! So many times I witnessed how males sided with my ex-husband just because they’re men, not even seeking the truth of the matter, or worse knowing it and going against it.
    I like reading those texts such as the story in Numbers 27 you mention Jeff; or the faithfulness and guidance of the prophetess Deborah; the courage of queen Vashti, of queen Esther, of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite; the women who supported the prophets, and Jesus and many other women. I thank God for including them in the sacred records.
    One of the reasons I no longer attend a physical church is the patronizing and authoritative behavior of the male leaders. They have no clue about living a life like Christ as loving servants to His beloved church as described in Eph 5. Instead they seek power to control and manage their reputation. They know how to quote those texts where women are to submit, have a quiet spirit, inner beauty and follow. They do not study Eph 5 to find out how they could serve humbly and truly love in words and actions as Jesus did.
    Many take offense when women rise up to lead but they don’t realize that their lack of true leadership is simply backfiring on them.

  4. suzzieq07

    Wow Pastor Crippen! Yes, I totally agree to the “mens’ and womens’ “clubs” description. I thought something was wrong with me just about every time I went to one. I always came away feeling I was falling short. Not only that, I came away doubting I even WAS a Christian! These ultra spiritual events can really play with your mind I guess. I’m sure many are done in sincerity and want to honor the Lord, but why do they fail to encourage and spur you on to become what God really intends you to be? I think it’s “information” overload in this generation. It’s so easy to whip out a book, organize a Christian event, get “heard” on the internet, etc. I am running more and more to my Bible, God’s Word, and the more I do, the more assurance I find. Maybe I am in a club after all, we meet daily, mostly in the morning. It’s just God, His Word, the Holy Spirit and me. May God bless all His followers!

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