Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Growing Up with a “Christian” Abuser Father

This post is taken from an excellent comment by one of our readers (Dawn). I am posting it here as a stand-alone post so that more of you will see it. I am very grateful to her for sharing her story, particularly because she really nails the evil and sin which victims of abusers/narcissists/sociopaths parading as Christians in the church encounter when they ask for help. Her words are also a great encouragement to me because I am so often accused of being too harsh, to negative…too…not looking on the sunny side enough.

So, here is Dawn:

What you say, while true, doesn’t go far enough. The reality, as I understand it, is far, FAR worse. Here’s why I say that:

I am not the spouse of an Christian abuser but the daughter of one. I was close to 30 when I got my divorce from *surprise* my abusive husband. And I used that as an opportunity to look at myself, figure out how I’d managed to make such a mess of my life and change how I was living and what choices I was making. It took me a long while to actually understand that my dad was abusive to us, and to me especially because, growing up, I could always somehow see through his BS, even if I didn’t understand exactly what I was seeing. My mom always told me that she thought he was afraid of me.

My dad had destroyed our relationship by the time I was 16 and I’m pretty sure he never noticed because he simply didn’t care. He found the Lord when I was 18 and it didn’t really change anything other than that he could use G_d as a cudgel to try to get us in line. I’ve been told things over the years like “Since G_d has forgiven him, I have no right to complain about his behavior”, “I owe it to G_d to forgive him and tolerate his behavior”, “Yeah, he might have done some bad things before he was saved, but that was a long time ago and, therefore, it doesn’t count anymore”. I call my dad the Teflon King because nothing sticks to him. And my concerns don’t count. Never have. Never will. So, when I graduated from college, I moved to the other side of the country and never looked back. Best decision of my life!!!

A couple of years after my divorce, when I was really trying to put the pieces of my life into perspective, my dad married wife #3 and was interested in convincing her that he was a good family-man. So he reached out to me. Even though I figured there was some sort of “catch”, I agreed to meet with him and a counselor. The main outcome was that he wanted me to basically give him a free pass for everything that had happened in the past. I agreed mostly because I knew he would never apologize or even acknowledge anything and, really, I wasn’t all that interested apologies anyway. I just wanted the ugliness to end. So I agreed to wipe away the past, provided that moving forward he would “be nice”. So literally, the only thing I’ve ever asked of the man is for him to “be nice”. That’s it. To my face, in the counselor’s office, he agreed. A couple of months later, I went back home to visit the rest of the family for the holidays and found out from my sister that he was telling everyone that I wanted nothing more to do with him. So basically his real response to my request to “be nice” was to end our relationship, lie to the family, lie to his church and publicly assassinate my character. If he was expecting that I would feel enough pain to beg him for forgiveness, I never bit. We have now been estranged for about 25 years and it truly the best gift he ever gave me. He freed me from his evil influence. And between that and moving away, it has given me an opportunity to unlearn the lessons of my youth and develop much better, happier, healthier ways to live my life. I am convinced had I stayed in the Chicago-area where I was raised that I would be dead by now and most likely at my own hand. That is how amazingly destructive abuse can be.

Anyway, at the time I was trying to figure all this out including how to respond to his ending contact with me, I was active in the church and naturally shared what was going on with people that I knew there, like with people in my Sunday School class. I was shocked because EVERY SINGLE ONE backed my dad. And they didn’t even know him. They would tell me that he was correct in saying that I have no right to complain about his behavior since he was saved. And that while maybe he shouldnt act the way he does (which they knew was described as abusive), they would tell me his behavior is actually OK and that G_d forgives him!!!! *Can’t make this up.* Then they would say something dumb about how it is wrong to judge others and then immediately condemn me for my “unforgiving heart”. Guess it is ok to judge me but not him. After I eventually left the church, the comments morphed into how G_d loves him and forgives him but I am going to hell. G_d must really hate me if he wants me to suffer so much.

Sadly, I have heard the exact same sort of thing from pretty much every Christian I have told my story to over the last 25 years. Here’s what I think is the true state of the current church:

1) The average Christian has no idea what evil (or abuse) is.
2) Worse, they have no desire to find out. It would be too much work and effort.
3) In response to evil, suffering, oppression, etc., they don’t really want to be bothered and so their “solutions” are superficial at best and damaging to the real victims at worst.
4) They love their “superficial” solutions because they don’t have to expend any effort in making sure they understand what is really going on and
5) they can pat themselves on the back about what wonderful people they are and how they were able to be so incredibly helpful and brilliant.
6) And the situation is set up so that if it turns out that the solution doesn’t really work, then it is clearly MY fault (not theirs) because I clearly didn’t follow their wonderful, fabulous, brilliant, amazing guidance.

Honestly, I personally think the average Christian would prefer that I just go ahead and slit my own throat because then the problem would go away without any discomfort for them, they can blame me, and feel justified in how helpful and brilliant they are. I don’t believe G_d would condemn me to hell because I endured an abusive childhood and no longer wear a specific label.

I appreciate your ministry in service to those who have suffered at the hands of Christian abusers. Over the last 10 years, give or take, I’ve finally been seeing people stand up against the teachings of the church which support and encourage abusive conduct while expecting that the victims will passively and silently accept their situation, effectively abusing the victims a second time. It is nice to see the change.

BTW, I don’t know if my mom was right when she told me as a child that she thought my dad was afraid of me. But I know that he should be afraid of me NOW. I have more integrity in my little pinkie than he has in his entire body. I am solid in who I am as a person, I know exactly who and what he is about, and I know the tactics to watch out for. I am a bigger, stronger, better person than he will ever be and because I am willing to look at my own failings and weed them out of my life, I am continually improving, growing, and learning.


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A Perversion of God’s Word Regarding Women


  1. Veronica Miyake

    I believe your conclusions about why people in the church respond the way they do to abuse victims are true. You heard the same pat answers from those who attend local churches like many of us have received. It is clear that your father never truly repented and was not born again because there would have been good fruit as evidenced by examples in the Bible (King David, Zacchaeus, etc). It is the LORD your father should fear because vengeance is His and He will repay. We, as former victims (I do not see born again believers referred to as victims in the Word but I acknowledge and validate what happened to us as targeted women), are now overcomers because of how the Lord has delivered and saved us from our oppressors! We are responsible to see to it that no root of bitterness grows up in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). While it is helpful to others who have shared in our sufferings to understand that there are those of us who “get it” and have had similar experiences, we must be diligent to give the glory to God for His saving grace in us and His merciful hand that saved us from the house of slavery (Ex. 20:2)! Thank you, Lord, for so great a salvation!!

  2. Sarah

    Thanks for sharing this! I can definitely relate. It took me recognizing I was abused in my marriage to then seeing it had been my entire life. My brothers don’t see it or choose not to.. I lived at home til I married at 31 and also even in high school I was ill and so I was at home more. Also, being the only daughter it was more directed at me than my brothers. The church and my dads family treat him like he is the victim and such a godly person. All the while he is evil through and through. It’s God’s Grace that I still Love the Lord after being in church and watching this year after year. My one brother tried to meddle too much with my life and then my other brother sided with abuser husband and called me abusive for standing up for myself. I raised my voice and cried in distress because we were basically homeless and penniless. That was my offense. Just recently I let my dad know he is not allowed in my apartment. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I don’t regret cutting off my brothers. The relief in cutting out toxic abusers is immeasurable.
    You are right about the church as well. For the most part, other than one small church, I think they are relieved when we leave. True religion is helping widow and orphans and that means sacrifice and would cut into their programs and trips to the coffee shop.
    The Lord has given us many vessels of his mercy for which I’m very thankful… through His universal church and I’ve learned I have to look at our Christian friends as our church rather than a local assembly. And we look on Pastor Crippen as our Pastor.
    I’m thankful you moved away and are doing better and did not end your life.. you are right about being better and stronger. I’ve realized I have joy in my life. My abusers and their toxic supporters do not have joy and will not while they choose to turn away rather than face the evil.

  3. Dee

    Dawn, I can relate to what you say regarding the churches. I went for counsel about abuse to a well known church in Chicago. I was nearly stunned by the minister and kept wondering what Bible he had been reading. I had attended a Bible institute myself, so am fairly well versed. My close friend, who went with me, after leaving his office (and me being speechless) said: “That pastor! Did he think this was a joke?” ( she is a non Christian ). I was far more hurt (in fact became deeply depressed for a brief period of time, and I am one who is overall a positive person) than I had ever been by the abuser. I am so grateful, Pastor Crippen, you are here for us! I will not set foot in another church here. I have observed abusers time and again, receive preference as others complained to the pastors. It falls on deaf ears every time, bar none, as the upright leave the church.

  4. Gen

    To the author: I am so sorry that this is the response you have received from the faith community. Please know that not all are like that. There are a few who support survivors! I wish you health and healing, and am thankful you are away from the abuse. Abuse is evil. You have worth. You are loved.

  5. Dawn has spoken well and done well. She is rightly feared by the darkness.

    Steve Nelson

  6. WRH

    I grew up with a “Christian” dad. Everyone thought he was great, they never knew what went on behind closed doors. I grew up experiencing and witnessing so much cognitive dissonance, gas lighting, verbal, emotional, spiritual and even some physical abuse. My dad was a master manipulator. On one hand I would have people come up to me and tell me what a great dad I had and how they wished they had a dad like mine, yet they never saw the torment and abuse he put our family through behind closed doors. There were times when we truly thought he would go off the deep end and kill us. He was a rager and he would go off at the blink of an eye, sometimes the rages included the guns he kept around the house. My mom finally got out after almost 35 years of marriage. She basically decided that even if he killed her it was better than going on with him. He was killing her in every other way anyways. After they split he weaved a long web of lies and he became the ultimate victim. I still cannot fathom some of the horrible lies he told about my sweet mom after she filed for divorce. He went on to marry two more times. I found out after the fact that he continued to abuse those women too. One divorced him quickly after marrying him. The next wife stayed with him until he died of cancer. He died a hero to most, an amazing friend, a “little god”, a victim of his former wives and me his horribly disrespectful daughter. People believe what they want to believe, there were signs, but he truly was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and so good at playing the game of deception. People were very drawn to him because he was so charismatic and charming, it seemed they were in awe of him at times, almost worship type awe. Still to this day I can remember reading the constant comments of his wonderfulness on his Facebook page. It is almost nauseating now to think about the deception and the fuel source this gave him. He was a very talented artist and very personable. He appeared to be so godly. Literally no one knowing his dark side except those of us who lived with him. We did try to reach out for help or share on numerous occasions down through the years, but you learn very quickly that most people don’t care and cannot be trusted. They do not understand and most are under the spell of these abusers. I even reconciled for a short time before his death (children no matter what the age will always long for connection with a parent and long for their love and acceptance) He played the part and for a short time I was somewhat hoping and thinking that he had really changed with his last wife, only to find out after his death that he was abusing her too. As we talked and shared after his death we both found out the truth of the tangled web of lies he never stopped telling. It was painful and devastating yet over time very healing because the truth was being revealed more and more. My step mom is now like a second mom to me and I will be forever grateful that God allowed us to connect and talk. It allowed me to understand some things and put more things to rest. I will always struggle with understanding why my dad was they way he was. The worst of it is the extreme confusion he caused. The questions of why that will never be answered. Why could he be so loving and kind to strangers and so abusive to the people who loved him the most? Why was he so cruel, so deceptive, so messed up? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just love us like he seemed to love outsiders? I know even that was pretend, but I still ask. Did he convince himself of the lies he was telling others or did he know he was lying? His gas lighting skills were incredible, he could make you believe something you KNEW was a lie. Very creepy. The one that haunts me the most….. Is my dad in heaven or hell? No matter how cruel he was at times the thought of my dad in hell grieves my heart. Yet there were never any outward signs that he owned his sin, quit pretending, nor repented. It has taken me a long time to understand my walk with God, to know he is nothing like my earthly father. I am thankful that in the most dark times all I ever wanted was to love God and be loved by Him. I never gave up seeking the truth and I never turned away from God, somehow I knew by His grace that He loved me and He would never leave me or forsake me. I knew He was a good, good father and He was not okay with what my earthly dad was doing. I may not have ever truly been loved by my earthly dad, he just wasn’t capable, but I look forward to the day my heavenly dad wraps his arms around me and I can see Him face to face.

  7. Lynn

    Dawn, I totally get where you’re coming from. While it wasn’t just my dad who was abusive – his abuse was wrapped up in cowardice and neglect – my mom was the primary abuser in my world growing up. Nothing was ever good enough for her. She enjoyed playing head games with me, switching from stonewalling, gaslighting, and covert manipulation the way an actress changes costumes. As a result of her emotional and psychological abuse, I’ve suffered from chronic health issues.

    It took me nearly 4 decades to finally fully open my eyes to the truth of what was happening – that was in an abusive relationship with my parents. They did their best to keep me dependent on them for as long as possible. They went out of their way to emotionally and financially punish any actions I took to try and break free in my teens and twenties.

    On top of that, the churches I attended for most of my life were not genuine churches. They were synagogues of satan in disguise. When sharing the stories of the abusive behavior that my parents exhibited, churchgoers and pastors always backed my parents up, acting like honoring your father and mother is an unconditional rule that can never be broken, even when you’re dealing with abusive people. This kept me in a relationship with my parents for at least 15 years longer than I would have otherwise engaged if I had understood more of the Bible’s context and intent. It’s why I tend to be skeptical of professing Christians and churches until I have time to see the evidence of whether or not their fruit is healthy or not.

    Be blessed.


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