Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

You Have the Right to Choose Your Relationships – and the Right to Reject Others

1Co 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

Tit 3:10-11 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, (11) knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

You all know the pattern. You come to see the toxicity of a relationship, be it an abuser spouse or some reviler. Often these kinds of people come at us in the most intimate settings – such as marriage or family. And you see it and you choose to separate from them. What happens? What happens especially in church settings or in family settings? YOU become the culprit. YOU are the one to blame. Why? Because YOU won’t reconcile. You won’t “forgive.” You are stubborn. Some pastors and churches will even throw you under the bus and out the door for taking such a stand.

I have seen and experienced this many times myself. Why won’t Jeff forgive? Why won’t Jeff join in the family again? Why won’t Jeff…stop being such a pain? Plug your own name in those sentences.

The Lord has given us the right to choose our relationships. To choose our friends. In fact, as you can see in the verses above (and there are many more), God commands us not to have relationships with certain kinds of individuals. But selfish people who aren’t interested in obeying the Lord simply want us to “forgive and forget” so that their own comfy world isn’t rocked.

God does not tell us that we are to separate from wicked people UNLESS they are a sibling or spouse or parent or child. In fact, take careful note in the 1 Cor 5 passage that He tells us to ESPECIALLY separate from a wicked person who claims to be a fellow Christian. And in Matthew 10 He tells us that He came into this world to separate – to bring a sword rather than peace. So that our enemies will be people in our own household! That is what the gospel effects in a sinful world.

So, why is that the mass of professing Christians and pastors flat our oppose all these commands of Christ? Why is it that they blame the victim when this separation occurs? I can tell you. Because most of them aren’t Christians at all. They are not born again. How do I know? Because Jesus says so:

Luk 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Mat 10:36-37 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (37) Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

So don’t wear this badge of blame and guilt that most people will put upon you when you separate from evil. You have the right and duty to choose your relationships. And to reject relationships. Even “blood” doesn’t trump this right (ie, “but they are your sister-brother-son-daughter-parent!”). In fact Jesus points directly to these familial relationships as the ones we can expect to see division at most often. The question is not “why won’t you reconcile with him/her?” but rather, “why are you still hanging around with that wicked person?”

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6 Comments

  1. Be free

    Thank you for your timely message, it was a reminder & again, a post loaded with answers to prayers – very much a gift on this holiday weekend. The impact of the abuser(s) has had many silent & difficult effects that have half-lives that live on & on, something I have seen as very common for survivors, particularly when they had been entangled with abusers who hypnotize so many with their spiritual justifications …. This is very much part of what you described in the patterns of the abusers deflecting their evil choices with blame & guilt on the very survivor they targeted.

    Proverbs 6:16-19 also notes “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:
    haughty eyes,
    a lying tongue,
    hands that shed innocent blood,
    a heart that devises wicked schemes,
    feet that are quick to rush to evil,
    a false witness who pours out lies
    and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

    As I read this & your message, it came to mind, we have been told NOT to associate with these people, reiterated in several places in the Bible. I have tried to think of one exception when God would say “oh this is ok, you need to disregard what I have said for all of time”. I literally laughed out loud when I thought of it in this light! He has been so clear, & in that we can confidently move on & let the abusers play their evil games & live in their venomous choices – they simply are not ours to own or entertain in any proximity.
    The Lord really does want us to choose to be free.

  2. Maura

    My question is why is it so easy for us to feel guilty when separating from the religious evil? Is it just cause of our brains programming/ what we were taught?
    God have mercy on us!!! I’m so thankful to finally be removed from that stuff, for lack of better wording….

  3. Lynn

    Not being able to choose my relationships as a Christian due to faulty and deceptive teaching from false teachers, is the single biggest cause of the length of my familial abuse and one of my biggest causes for abuse professionally.

    When I would share my stories of the wicked mind games that my mother would use in order to get her desired outcome and keep me enslaved to her with professing Christian family members and “friends”, they would admit that what she was doing was wrong, but told me that because she was my mother, I couldn’t just walk away. Not one of them offered to help me get free from her. “She’ll always be your mom! She’s the only mother you’ve got!” they’d tell me. Their responses left me feeling guilty for wanting to separate from her and the rest of my enabling family and lengthened the time it took for me to grow the courage to say – Enough! – and go no contact by more than a decade.

    So, in order to not completely sever my familial relationship and be seen as being rebellious and unloving as I was being told was my Christian duty, I did my best to go as low contact as I could with them for about 15 years. Most of that time I spent living more than 500 miles away from her and the rest of my extended family, and only talking to my parents a couple of times a year.

    If you are in a relationship that causes you to have to psych yourself up or plan around because you know that following the conversation, you are going to feel emotionally wrecked, you are in an abusive relationship. It’s okay to set healthy boundaries and say no more. I’ve had to do that in my life with my immediate family.

    One of the things I would do once I left the area they lived in, was to test my relationship with my family members. I wanted to see how much of our “relationship” was reciprocal built on a foundation of mutual love and respect and how much of it was about them. I would see how long it would take for family members and “Christian” friends to reach out to me and see how I was doing. I wanted to know if there was any real genuine love and affection or if it was just a relationship of what I could do for them. The silence from these professing “Christians” was deafening. Sometimes it would take months. Sometimes they wouldn’t ever reach out.

    I can’t remember a time my mom reached out to me of her own volition unless she needed something from me – info on what was going on with her parents with whom she’d been estranged from my entire life, a place to stay while dealing with her parents as their health declined in the last few years of their lives. She would constantly tear at me and demean any success I got apart from her and would shame me if I shared the struggles I was going through when dealing with difficult people at work. I felt like I owed her some sort of relationship with me because she was my mom because that’s what was being told to me by other professing Christians. The lies she used to tell me about how the only person who would ever really love me was her and my dad (talk about a traumatizing and terrifying thing to say to a child when they are being abused) and the fact that I struggled to make and keep healthy relationships, because I didn’t really know how to do that, left me feeling so alone, unloved, and afraid of other people. If this is what a loving family does, what are strangers who I don’t know going to do to me? Was a thought that would circulate in my mind when I would consider trying to reach out and expand my social circle. The church that we were a part of growing up and in my 20’s and 30’s did nothing to prove that fear wrong. Sure, they were preaching about the love of God, the love of God, because God loves everyone, right? Wrong. I was screaming on the inside asking – where is the love of God in my situation? Where is he when my mom abused me and my dad enabled her or inflicted his own flavor of abuse? There was a deep internal struggle that warred within my spirit for years because I didn’t have the insight into what the Bible meant about God loving his people or a correct theology about the nature of evil. I was angry and frustrated at my abuse – rightfully so – but it took some really brutal betrayal on the part of family, friends and the larger “professing” Christian church to open my eyes to see that not everyone who professes Christ is actually a Christian. That it is a good, righteous, and godly thing to walk away from all relationships – including family – that are not being obedient to scripture’s teaching. So that’s what I did almost three years ago. It’s been the best decision I’ve made outside of surrendering my life to Christ’s lordship. It’s enabled me to start healing from all of the toxicity that was surrounding me and see more clearly the truth that God’s given to us in his word.

    My dad would reach out on my birthday and Christmas, but never really made an effort to know me as a person, so when he did reach out, it felt very hollow and meaningless. His reaching out was very much the what’s socially expected kind of a response so that if others asked him about me, he could say that he talked to me giving him the appearance being a good parent without actually being one. He never showed genuine interest in who I was or my wellbeing. Our relationship was very superficial. I knew I couldn’t entrust him with anything really important in my life because he’d share it with my mom. That info would somehow become a weapon they’d use to manipulate me even further. He was an absentee father in my childhood, preferring to work and spend his time in the garage working on his cars then on building healthy relationships with his kids. His spiritual abuse – using scripture to get his own way and believing false teachers who filled his head with lies about how adult children can be considered demon-possessed if they won’t blindly follow the instructions of their parents, coupled with the toleration of all of mom’s wicked behavior directly impacted my view of and ability to trust men.

    Are all men abusive? No. But for a very long time, I was deeply afraid of getting into a romantic relationship that would mimic that of my parents. I was determined that I would not repeat the mistakes of my parents and grandparents by marrying and staying married to a false Christian. I also did tons of research into narcissism, being raised by narcissists, and how that upbringing can impact my life. I feel like I have a Ph.D. in it, for all that I’ve invested in getting to know the type of abusers I grew up with. One of the big takeaways I learned from what psychologists have found, is that narcissistic abuse victims tend to marry abusers because that’s what they were raised with and consider normal – even when they know intellectually it’s not healthy for them. In my mind as a teenager and young adult, I thought that if I didn’t get married, then I wouldn’t have to suffer under that particular brand of heartache as I’d witnessed in my family.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to marriage, nor am I ruling out the possibility that I may one day get married, but it will have to be with a very specific type of man and I still have more emotional healing ahead of me before that’s something that I’m willing to actively pursue. I would rather suffer the pain of loneliness as a single woman than repeat the generational patterns that I see in my family of origin in a marriage with someone who is abusive. My parents and both sets of grandparents should have divorced if there was a genuine Christian among them, but they didn’t and haven’t. They cling to the belief that only death can separate you from the person you married otherwise you are disobeying God, thereby punishing themselves and their children and grandchildren with their faulty beliefs.

    Today’s professing church has not done a great job in creating safe environments for those of us dealing with and healing from past abuse. Most tend to inflict additional spiritual abuse on top of the other abuse victims have endured. We aren’t seeing many godly men in our midst who model Christ and who know how to love their sisters in Christ well. Yet those of us who aren’t married seem to be ignored, forgotten, or admonished as to why we haven’t settled down and gotten married. I’m sure there are some godly men out there somewhere, maybe even a few of them who are single, but they appear to be the exception, not the rule, in the church.

    My brother would reach out once or twice a year, usually to complain about how awful mom was behaving and how weak dad was for not standing up to her and to ask for money since I was doing better financially than he was at the time. What I realized pretty quickly with him, was that he felt that since my life was going “better”, aka – I was making more money than him and didn’t have 7 other people to provide for because of his poor choices with the women in his life, that it was my responsibility to help him through this hard time.

    It started to hit me that not all suffering is the same. Sometimes we suffer because of the poor choices we make and that limits our ability to build the kind of life we want. For example, having kids when you don’t have the financial resources to provide for them is a different kind of hardship than having a co-worker bully you or a pastor spiritually abuse you. Some suffering is the result of poor choices, like my brother’s decision to keep having kids with multiple women even though he didn’t have the income to properly support them. It results in him coming and asking for handouts to help him cover his poor decisions. His suffering wasn’t coming as a result of oppression from other people, but from the choices he’s made. He’s not liking the consequences he’s experiencing, as a result of the actions he took, yet still refuses to make the changes he needs in order to change his circumstances.

    My problem with going low contact with my family was that it didn’t resolve my issues and still kept me emotionally connected to them, which negatively impacted other aspects of my life including my physical health. I hadn’t learned how to resolve the deep negative behavioral patterns that I’d learned to cope with growing up with and living with emotionally and spiritually abusive people at the time. It’s only through my spiritual growth – in studying scripture, prayer and using the tools available to me to renew my mind naturally and spiritually. You’ve got to rewire your brain when you’ve suffered abuse in order to bring about the positive change needed to heal your body.

    The Bible is the tool God’s given us to transform and renew our conscious mind – nous https://biblehub.com/greek/3563.htm – (Romans 12:2) into the likeness of Christ. In order to bring the healing of God into our unconscious mind – think of it as your inner 7-year-old child – we must learn how to communicate with that inner child, so we can bring the truth of God to him/her and help him/her get what he/she needs to let go of the beliefs that are keeping us stuck in negative patterns that cause us pain. When you only heal your conscious mind, the unconscious mind remains unchanged, creating a rift between the two. You know this is happening because you will feel internally conflicted around a specific belief that remains unchanged. Part of you wants to feel [new belief], and the other part of you wants to feel [existing belief]. They are at odds with each other, creating an internal tug of war that will mostly result in the inner child winning because it is the stronger of the two parts of your mind.

    The unconscious mind controls 95-98% of your body’s actions and reactions. It is determined to prove to the conscious mind that what it believes to be true, is actually true, even when it’s wrong. If your inner child grew up believing he/she wasn’t loveable, then it’s going to do everything in its power to influence the relationships you’re in to prove that belief to be true. It is that inner child that still holds on to those wrong, negative, unhealthy beliefs that causes us to self-sabotage in order prove to the conscious mind that the unconscious mind is right. This is why, even when the light of Christ enters our conscious mind and we embrace him, we still can experience the negative after-effects of sin in our lives. We are made new spiritually, but our body still needs to be renewed. That is part of the sanctification process. We need to not only bring the light of the gospel to our conscious mind, but to the inner child in us who still feels unsafe, unheard, unloved, not enough, and worthless as a result of the abuse he/she endured. We need to bring the love of God and the truth of His word to that inner child so that he/she can be transformed – letting go of the old beliefs that are either no longer true or were never true to begin with and replace them with the truth of God’s word. Fortunately, God has allowed scientists in the last century to discover how we can talk to our unconscious mind and retrain it to believe God’s truth, to not hold onto the lies and partial truths that we grew up with. There are tools and techniques that exist that can help us tap into our unconscious mind and make changes that will break the negative behavioral patterns that we learned in order to adapt and cope with to our abusive environment.

    How do I know this? I’ve experienced it firsthand. Being able to change those limiting beliefs that I consciously knew were not true and didn’t align with who God said I was into the truths of God’s word and begin to work through the internal conflicts I had raging inside of me has been transformative. It’s helped me regain my self-confidence, rebuild my self-esteem, and reminds me that I am who God says I am, not what my parents or culture or what the professing Christian church says I am. These techniques allow you to tap into a part of you that most people ignore or won’t acknowledge that it exists because it is still so mysterious, and they don’t understand it. In order to understand yourself holistically, you have to embrace learning about all facets of you, not just the acceptable or familiar ones.

    The brain, and all its facets, is still so mysterious to us as humans. Medicine has been studying it and making incredible discoveries, but there is still so much that we do not know. Christians are called to love God, love our neighbors, and bring freedom to the captives, hope to the hopeless, joy to those who mourn, with the Good News of the gospel of Christ. We are also to help bind up the brokenhearted, care for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the oppressed. To do so requires we not only become doctrinally sound, but willing to apply our doctrine in a loving manner to those in the body of Christ who are in need of our assistance. That means we need tools beyond just the Bible to help us best love our brothers and sisters in Christ and shine our light brightly in the world around us. We need to know the nature of evil and how it works so we can be aware and on guard against it in our midst. It means we need to educate ourselves in becoming trauma-informed enough to say that even if we can’t actually bring about the help, we can point the hurting person in the direction of someone who or something that can help. It means we need to be wise in the choice of relationships that we choose. You don’t have to remain in relationships with people who do not love you, even if they are family members, spouses, or church members. Leaving a church doesn’t mean you are leaving Christ.

    Sometimes the only way to follow him is to let go of the relationships you have and walk with him into a new future. I know that’s what I’ve had to do. It can be a hard, lonely journey, but the positive fruit and the healing that can come from it is worth the price. Who the son sets free is free indeed! So, go and be free.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Lynn. I am glad you have a place to share the things you have learned. One of the most evil and effective weapons of the enemy is the counterfeit church, counterfeit Christian, counterfeit theology. Paul pronounces all such fakes anathema – set apart for God’s damnation.

    • Be free

      This is excellent information regarding what/why things happen, options and the tools we have! Thank you

    • Em

      Thank you Lynn, I have lived similar, and I am so sorry for all you’ve been through. I also rejoice that you found your way out! Yes, “Who the son sets free is free indeed!”
      Between Pastor Crippen’s teaching and your further explanations, this is like counseling and teaching and preaching all rolled into one article; extremely helpful. Thank you!

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