Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Silence as a Sign of Abuse

Deu 27:24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Psa 64:2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers,

Mar 4:22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.

One sign that a person is a victim of abuse is silence. I have seen this quite often. We write it off as “well, he/she is just a very quiet person.” And while it is true that some of us are not as communicative as others, the kind of silence I am speaking of here is a remarkable silence. It is something that stands out, to which people take notice. “So and so is sooo quiet. They never talk hardly at all.” The problem is, while we see the symptom, we fail to understand its cause.

Domestic abusers (including spiritual abusers and other types of tyrants) insist upon secrecy. “What goes on here in this family stays here!” A disguised “front” is displayed in public, but that image is a facade. What really happens behind those walls is evil, and it must remain hidden. So secrecy is an aspect of an abusive system. And this means – don’t talk.

The fear that an abuser instills in his target cultivates this silence as well. Perhaps she will say something that she will be punished for. And even if she tries in the slightest way to ask others for help, she may well be accused of “disrespecting” her abuser. So there are all kinds of pressures from many different sources that produce this resolve not to speak. The victim may not even be aware of how abnormal their non-communication is. If they could see themselves in years past, before the abuse began, often they would see a healthy, outgoing, talkative person. But that person has faded into the past. Now she is silent.

I have most typically seen this dynamic in women who are being abused by their husband, but I have also known some men to evidence it too. “Have you noticed that he just doesn’t talk?” is a common observation by those who know him, but few if any of these people understand the reason for the silence. They think “it’s just him.” But very often this non-talking trait is a symptom of abuse.

Do you see how devilish this is? How cruel? if a victim is going to be able to get help, they are going to have to talk. If we are to know what is going on behind the scenes, we have to be told. But the wicked use all kinds of tactics to ensure that this telling never happens. Threats. Shaming. Accusing. Stealing one’s confidenct. Destroying the victim’s trust in their own ability to interpret what they see. It all is designed to ensure that the power and control continue, and that no one knows about it. Secrecy. Silence.

To any victim presently caught up in this bondage, let me say this. You are afraid to talk. (And that fear, by the way, is well-grounded in many ways. Not only because the abuser has made threats, but because those the victim tells about the abuse normally become a loose cannon causing even more grief for her). But let me say this to anyone in an abusive marriage or other toxic relationship that insists you just shut up – you can begin talking by talking to the Lord. He will never respond in a wrong way. He, in fact, already knows all about what is happening to you. And in His providence, He is able to direct you to help and freedom.


Exodus: Getting Free of "the Family"


Straining a Gnat to Swallow a Camel – Marriage "Laws" in Most Churches


  1. Jess

    Thank you for pointing this out. My brother was silent for two years. Simply communicating or interacting with others unleashed her fury. Because she owned him. I wish I knew as much about abuse then as I do now.

  2. Amy

    And when you’ve been told by the church that you should never ever speak unkindly about your spouse, no matter what, you keep quiet.
    And when you try to share that something isn’t right in your marriage and people tell you to just pray harder, submit more and respect him in all things, you keep quiet.
    And when you begin opening up more about things that hurt you and your children, and are told that hurting people hurt others, you keep quiet.
    And when the day comes where things get worse and you meet the pastor’s wife for coffee to try and confide with someone you think will try to help, but then never hear from her again, you keep quiet.
    And then one day, your abusive husband walks out on you and the kids and you think, finally, they will see the truth so you speak a little louder and bolder but are told how no one can take sides, you keep quiet.
    And as the days turn into months that the abuse has been gone from your home and your eyes are wide open to how very abusive it was and you try to tell people and are met with silence — you don’t keep quiet, but you leave that church.
    As a side note — my current husband of almost 10 years now <3 and who attended the same church as me and my ex, once said to me early in our relationship how no one at that church really knew the whole story of what happened with me and my ex because I kept quiet and the only one talking was my ex. Hmmm, how true!

  3. Lynn

    Pay special attention to those who are quiet. Don’t tease them or chide them for not speaking up. They are like that for a reason. For me it was a survival mechanism in my verbally abusive family. Family, friends, teachers would all comment of how quiet I was but no one sought to figure out why. I wanted to be invisible and felt like I accomplished that fairly successfully most of the time. I don’t make a lot of noise and make my presence known immediately in places and people that I’m not familiar with. A past business coach described me as being self-contained.
    When you’re raised to not trust others and you know you can’t trust family, part of your survival feels like it’s contingent on how successful you are as an individual person. Being self-contained was how I coped with all of the trauma, abuse, and loss that I experienced. I know it’s not healthy, but given the environment I was raised in, it was one of the few tools I had to help me survive the abuse. It’s not like I wanted to be on my own, but very few people ever took the time to care enough and learn more about why I am the way I am.
    My mom would complain to me about being quiet. She’d ask, “You used to such a happy outgoing child. What happened to that little girl?” I was never able to answer her. One, because I couldn’t articulate the reason. Two, I was scared if I did give a reason it would be another weapon she’d use to abuse me with. It’s not like I could tell her that her abusive parenting style was why I was so quiet.
    Looking back, now I know why I was so quiet. I was terrified of bringing out more anger and hostility from her. She systematically tore at me to the point that it reshaped my personality. Chronic abuse requires your brain. I could have been an outgoing extrovert for all I know. As a result of of her abusive parenting, I am very introverted, and cautious around people I don’t know. I like people in small, measured doses, but I don’t trust them without taking time to see who they are. I want safe people, not just anyone in my life.

    • Omgoodness, Lynn. I can relate. I remember the day in September when I was 12 years old, walking in from school and realizing I just didn’t want to discuss my feelings with my mother. Let my little sister be the chatterbox. I must have done well because later on my mother would tell me I wasn’t very self-aware. I’ve often wondered since about that because I consider myself quite self aware. Recently, after learning about gaslighting, I’ve wondered if she was gaslighting me with her suggestions that I’m not very self-aware. But now, responding to your post, I think she shut me down and then judged the results.

  4. Free

    Thank you for pointing this out. You nailed this one too – called it – and it is easy to see it now in others – particularly at church or in social circles.
    I am a quiet person anyways… and was a sitting duck for the abuser – he hunted, love bombed and abused as soon as we were married. After his fake Christian front paid off, and after enduring his ceaseless roller coaster of abuse cycles, society literally held it against me because I was too scared to talk. By his actions, I would be dead by now if I had talked while living with him – he was not about to let me get away with that while I was his possession in his covert control.
    Granted, you wouldn’t know what the silence meant at a glance – I smiled and continued to see the best in people…… even though I cried many a day and night on my knees begging the Lord….. just begging him, literally on my knees sobbing… And when Christ asked God, his loving Father, to take the cup from him you bet that ask was a humbled, sobbing ask as well many a time while I was with the abuser! Years later, not exactly how I had begged or pictured it….the Lord came through. He answered the prayers I begged – in his way – and I am away from the abuser at last.
    There are some days that the Lord was the only one I could talk to and I knew without a shadow of a doubt, he understood and would not hold my silence against me. And…. that he loved me no matter how the roller coaster abuse hell went while married to the abuser .
    You are very right Pastor Crippen – if you can’t talk to people, for whatever the reasons are, talk to the Lord, always, always, always talk to the Lord. And when you get your voice back – you will naturally praise the Lord yet again, sometimes out loud, sometimes in action, sometimes just in your innermost being. Doesn’t matter – it is praise. Christ, our Savior, of ALL people, knows what is like to know when being abused, sometimes you say nothing at all…. there is a time to be silent and a time to talk. The New Testament recaps this so beautifully in the account of Christ’s life….

  5. lg

    I never thought about this before, but so true. I was always so quiet during my marriage, so afraid to speak whenever I gathered for “ladies Bible studies” and luncheons. I just remember sitting there amazed at how they could be talking so freely and seemed so carefree and breezy and cared for, all I could do was to try and contain myself to keep from crying. One older lady noticed me and afterwards gave me the book “the power of a praying wife,” so for several years after that I though oh just need to pray more, pray better, learn the right way to pray….. at that time I had no understanding of abuse or could even articulate what was wrong and I just cried every night in the shower, always felt confused at why it never seemed I was good enough and just wanted to be breezy and carefree like the women in the Bible Study, thinking whatever was wrong, was because of me.
    I have a ‘friend’ now who thinks she is in an abusive marriage and tells me so. I do not know how to respond, because who am I to judge, but nothing about her indicates abuse to me. She has free reign in her life, comes and goes as she pleases, has a cook, is so extroverted and talkative, wheres a lot of bright happy, colors, and is quite opinionated, that she actually can offend a lot of people – she is a force to be reckoned with – her house is decorated completely how she wants it – with no masculine space at all for her husband – and she told me her husband is so honest, he just gets angry easily – but has never been physical. Part of me thinks the abuse might be the other way around…. She is on heavy meds for depression that she insists is because of her marriage…. maybe…. I don’t know. She is rarely home, yet loves everything about the idea of homemaking, but does not clean, or cook or do any actual homemaking things, she just wants to talk about, intellectualize it.
    Then I read this post about the silence and quiet. She does not fit this profile at all…..
    Does she have the appearance of godliness? I wonder, am upset at the idea of it, afraid to judge, yet judge and go back and forth…. She prays a lot, out loud, yet is not interested in really learning about abuse, or evil, or Old Testament….
    She prides herself in being anti-technology (no internet at her house) and well read and it almost she thinks that it what defines her Christianity…. But then I think how much I spiritually benefited from sources like Bible.hub.com that helped me do personal bible studies, and sources like Pastor Crippen’s site and being able to listen to his sermons in order that I can understand and articulate the abuse.
    When I think about the appearance of godliness it is easy to weed people out of my inner circle, but I am still conflicted over some others, like this friend, wondering how far to judge verses love and be gracious towards….. However I have noticed I have taken a huge step backwards from her this past year, because I do not want to rely on her as much as I had in the past, and since then she has started telling me her husband is abusive (but she would never leave him as it would disrupt her comfortable lifestyle) but I feel like her husband is not really abusive, but then feel guilty for thinking that, because people thought the same about my ex too…..

    • R

      I would be interested in hearing what others think about the friend who says she’s in an abusive marriage. I don’t know what to think about this.

      • Jeff Crippen

        R – Most abuse victims (perhaps I should say “all”?) initially do not realize they are married to an abuser. They don’t even know such a thing exists. They attribute their problems in the marriage with other things – often blaming themselves.
        Has the friend been reading about abuse and learning about it? Because if a genuine victim tells someone they are in an abusive marriage (married to an abuser), they have already come a long way in seeing through the confusion and the fog. Something had to show them the light. And even then they will tend to be hesitant to tell everything – they probably still don’t see or understand it all.
        On the other hand, if this is just someone who rather lightly uses the word “abuse” in a pretty confident way but who really doesn’t evidence the classical symptoms we see in genuine abuse victims, then something “off” is going on.
        Most all abuse victims I have known – and I have talked to many – who are Christians (most have been), who have contacted me have never come right out and said “I am married to an abuser.” Much of what I do is help them see what the abuser is. They know that they are miserable, that their marriage is not what it is supposed to be, but they still don’t understand why.
        So I suppose what I am trying to say is that if you look at an abuse victim as a woman running a race, she is not going to come to clarity until after quite a few laps around the track. Anyone who claims to have such clarity right at the starting blocks – well, that doesn’t add up.
        I’m sure others will have more good insights here too.

      • Lynn

        R – while I can’t completely say for certain that she’s not being abused or not because I don’t know her. Her behavior as you’ve described it is a bit suspect. Her husbands anger, while it is a problem that he needs to repent of and find the right tools and techniques to help him overcome, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s abusive. I would ask her next time she brings it up what she means by her husband being abusive.
        If he is really abusing her, why is she not seeking help? Why does she want to stay in a marriage if he’s abusing her? What does she believe about divorce? Casually throwing the words around doesn’t mean it’s actually happening. If she is really in an abusive situation, there would be more fear showing up in her actions and a desire to change her environment so she can get free and feel safe.
        Most of the time, victims are too ashamed to admit to themselves let alone others when they are being abused. They know something is wrong, it not that the toxic behavior they are enduring is abuse. They don’t flit around acting like they don’t have a care in the world.
        Her depression could be a result of her not dealing with her own selfish pride and God is gently trying to correct her so she will repent. It could be she’s not dealing with her own negative emotions in a healthy manner. The medication may offer her temporary relief, but it will not go away completely until she deals with the root cause.
        I think it’s wise that you are challenging her behavior and comparing it to what we know in scripture. It is possible that she has an appearance of Godliness and no real substance. Not everyone who reads the Bible is saved. My parents read it and twisted it to fit their own deluded mindset.
        Scripture about not judging gets twisted out of context so much. Yes we are to judge, especially those who claim the name of Christ. We are to make sure that we judge others with right motives and compare the fruit of their lives to what scripture says. If it’s rotten fruit, we are commanded to not eat with such a one.
        I encourage you to pray about the fruit you are seeing with regards to this woman. Ask God to reveal to you what the truth is so you know what steps to take moving forward. Reflect on how her actions reveal the state of her heart and see if it’s what a true Christian is supposed to be behaving like.
        You choosing to judge her by her fruit is a responsibility granted to you by God to help protect you from the counterfeit. She may not be a wolf, it that doesn’t necessarily make her a sheep either. Goats are scattered in the mix. They may appear as genuine from a distance, but upon closer scrutiny, their unbelief becomes more apparent.
        Your on the right track R. Keep following Jesus and testing what you see against what scripture tells us and the answers you seek will be revealed to you.

  6. Finally Free

    How serendipitous this blog post is. Back in 2015 when the news came out that Josh Duggar had sexually abused five of his sisters, that otherwise attention-hungry family said little to the media except for the nonsense about how the sisters “forgave” him like that was all that mattered. Now that you mention it, the sisters in question were quiet on the show. I always felt something was off about the way the parents kept having kids but they made the older/middle daughters raise the younger kids and run the house.
    What do you know, Josh was arrested again today because he allegedly committed new sex abuse crimes. No surprise there. It turns out the Duggars knew since 2019 these charges were probably coming down, but, again, they were uncharacteristically quiet.
    While I don’t have inside information about this Duggar case, I know the background of some other child sexual image crimes. While the charges often don’t indicate to the public whether the defendant knew the victims, these crimes often came on the authority’s radar that way. Abuser A takes photos of himself abusing his own kids and trades the photos with Abuser B doing the same, etc.

    • Finally Free, I’m only just now learning about the Duggars but when I worked summers in Alaska, there was this family called the Pilgrims that came to the area where i worked. They presented quite a conundrum to the tiny community because not only did their sheer numbers double the year-round population, but Papa Pilgrim passed himself off having this super godly Christian family, but had his family live in ways that embarrassed them and, more obviously, brought them into continual conflict with everyone who didn’t do things the way he wanted. I smelled a rat in general from the start but couldn’t put my finger on it. My conviction was solidified with body language one day as I observed my BIL shake hands with one of the midteen sons, and I could just see the son squirming inside. I read his body language as “we are not what you think”.
      Later, as I observed the overall family, I told my SIL, “there is incest in that family”. I thought it was the eldest two sons.
      A few years later it all came to light and a reporter named Tom Kizzia wrote the family’s story in a book. Total, rank, sexual abuse, but it wasn’t the sons. And the victims had been quiet all. that. time.
      Based on what you are describing here, it sounds like the Duggars and the Pilgrims have a lot of overlapping experiences, silence, and you could tell something was “off”.

  7. Jane Ray

    When I was age 11 or so my parents complained that they never knew what to get me for Christmas. Why didn’t I say anything or tell them?? At the time, I felt this was evidence I was defective. But the reality was that they didn’t regulate their own emotions, and would deliberately harm me if I confided in them. So this was a smart defensive behavior. It took me a long time as an adult to find my voice though.

  8. This is an interesting piece, thanks for sharing. I know this form of “silence” all to well because it was/is me. Unfortunately, in the African American community it is mostly acknowledged as a lack of trust. People think they can’t trust you because you are so quiet, not realizing there are much bigger reasons.

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