Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

More Thoughts on Wolves Hiding Among the Flock

Acts 20:29-31 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; (30) and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (31) Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ABOUT 5 YEARS AGO BUT CERTAINLY NEEDS TO BE REPEATED TODAY

One of the most common stories I hear from Christians who are abuse victims/survivors is the injustice they receive at the hands of their churches.  And one of the typical ingredients in this injustice is the abuser’s success in winning the sympathy and alliance of the pastor and church members, turning them against the victim, who is then most often the one who must leave her church.  Here is this fine fellow who admits to certain “shortcomings” in his performance as husband and father.  But he is sorry for it all and he is doing everything he can to restore and preserve his marriage and family.  But she simply won’t listen.  She is unforgiving and bitter.  She refuses to forgive and reconcile. And when she separates from him, she is the guilty one.
Still another common chapter in the stories these women tell is the refusal of their churches to effect church discipline upon the abuser.  Some victims have pleaded with their church leaders to do this.  They report, after years of secrecy, all the horrid evils Mr. Saintly church member has been committing against her and the children.  But nothing is done.  After some initial lip service and patronizing sympathies are expressed, nothing is done.  Then some more “nothing” is done. Nothing.
I would like us to consider for a moment why the typical reaction is to do nothing. Why is it that so often the victim is branded the guilty party while the abuser remains in the pew Sunday after Sunday?  I suggest an answer to you.  It is because we have been taught to believe that a person can look like a wolf, kill other sheep like a wolf, and yet be a sheep of Christ’s flock.  In other words, we dismiss the abuser’s evils because we assume he is a Christian.  He isn’t a wolf — he is a sheep with certain “wolfishness” still tarrying in his flesh and we must help him conquer it.  This of course takes great patience and understanding.  It requires us forgiving him as Christ has forgiven us.  And we tell the victim, while she is still getting torn up by this sheep with fangs, that she needs to be longsuffering and loving toward him too.  If she doesn’t, well, she isn’t much of a Christian.
I can tell what a wolf looks like.  I’ve seen them out in the woods. When I do, I don’t say, “Look! There’s a deer!”  Wolves, even in disguise, betray their real character by their actions.  But we have been taught to ignore those things.  So when we see a wolf ripping the guts out of a lamb, we say “Oh my, that sheep has some real anger issues to conquer.  Let us love him through his turmoil and help him.”
It is well past time for Christians and pastors and church leaders to STOP treating wolves like troubled sheep.  An abuser is NOT a Christian.  Never has been.  Probably never will be.  If you doubt that, review the basic elements of the abusive mentality – Entitlement, Power, Control, and Justification.  Now, please explain how a person with that fundamental mindset, a mindset that defines the essence of who he is – please explain how that person can be a follower of Jesus Christ?  How he can actually have denied himself, taken up his cross, considered others more important than himself, and set out in Christ’s footprints?  How can such a person wear the fundamental badge of a disciple of Jesus Christ – “that you love one another”?  (John 13:34-35). The thing is simply not possible.  The abuser is lying.  He is not a Christian.  He is a wolf.  And we really, really need to stop treating him like a troubled sheep.
I was recently reading a history of a terribly abusive man who was a pastor of a very large fundamental church for decades.  He was exalted and virtually worshiped by his followers.  His entire persona was that of a sociopath.  How he loved his power and control!  And he used it on women in the church.  He destroyed at least one marriage.  He was exposed eventually, with headlines of his sexual escapades appearing in the local newspapers of a major city.  Finally, another pastor had the courage to take this guy on and announce from the rooftops what was happening.  But the man was never removed from his pulpit.  He played the victim quite successfully and the majority believed him.
Now, what I find particularly amazing is that even the courageous pastor who sounded the alarm, still left the door open to the possibility that this sociopathic abuser could be a genuine Christian.  He cited the example of King David, a man after God’s own heart, who nevertheless committed murder and adultery.  I do not disagree with the fact that a Christian still has his sinful flesh (Romans 6) and can sin grievously as David did.  BUT, if he is a true Christian, genuinely converted and in Christ, he will most certainly come to true repentance just as David did.  Herein is the difference between the soiled sheep and the wolf.  Abusers among us do not repent.  They always have their excuses, their blaming, their “I’m sorry, so you must forgive me now” attitudes. And then they go right out and do it again.  This, King David did not do.  There is simply no way that a pastor who displayed all the sociopathic, conscienceless, and unchanged behavior marks that this wolf in the pulpit did, can be considered to be a Christian.  We should treat such men only as as wolves.  And that is precisely what our Lord has told us to do.

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5 Comments

  1. This nails abuse in the church on the head. “Stop treating wolves like troubled sheep.” You should post this message on every Christian website, blog, and social media platform out there. This is one of the top reasons (after preaching a false gospel) that I could not find a church to attend in my area. I was not safe as a sheep. The pastor was no pastor, not an under-shepherd commanded by God to protect the flock. I saw a lot of hirelings, those who could preach a good message, but no heart for the sheep. They are wolves themselves. I’m so grateful to the Lord for you, Pastor, because this sheep is safe in her pasture.

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  2. Ann

    This is so accurate.
    When I was going through my difficult separation and divorce I believe God led me to the Cry for Justice website and all my thoughts were corroborated. I felt immensely supported.
    As described in the article, my abuser canvassed for support among Christian friends and labelled me bitter. He harried me into saying “I forgive you” and then said that meant I had to stay with him, as if the words were a formula that would bring automatic success.
    It was a very hard journey.
    Huge thanks to Pastor Jeff for shining a light on the evil of wolves tolerated or even aided and abetted by churches.
    (Funnily enough, one of my passwords at that time was “shout for justice.”)

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  3. Live

    You called it Pastor Crippen – wolves are not troubled sheep!! And pastors/ churches/ Christ followers must not treat them as such!

    Having grown up in the Roman Catholic maze of wolves / RASNs being “forgiven” via the confession to a priest, etc. – then seeing the same behavior of wolves and leaders in non-denominational Bible churches (or so they said) it became apparent the deceivers had all but mastered their disguise as sheep.

    The part that I see the church body struggle with over and over again is there is a time when we must let the dead be dead – yes -there is no hope to revive a person who has chose satan – chosen death. It is as insane as grabbing a decaying body out of a grave in a cemetery and thinking that treating the deceased like they are alive and well amongst us will make them come back to life!

    The wolves may be walking around in a sheep suit, but they are dead. So in order to pull the wool off of our eyes – we must be willing to accept the wolves have chosen to be dead, and dead is dead….. Yes, accept and redirect focus on those that are alive…. still seeking, following…. those that want to LIVE for and in Christ.

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  4. Cordelia

    This is so we’ll explained. “STOP treating wolves like troubled sheep.”

    100% my experience with the RASN/fake ‘husband’ (now rejoicingly the “ex”) and the pastor at the church we attended.

    I finally told the truth of being abused, after 25+ years of abuse at that point; the pastor snarled at me, folded his arms, and pushed his chair away from me. (I had asked his wife to attend this meeting; she saw his reaction and told him, “wait, hear her out.”) He reluctantly and contemptously listened. He asked me, if I wanted him to approach the RASN and I said, I wasn’t sure, as in, it wasn’t a good idea. That horrible man told him. I left the church and the RASN stayed receiving support and pity, and continued his campaign of defamation against me.

    The RASN had his next victim in the wings, all along. That ‘pastor’ married them. I happen to know someone who knows the duo-the current status: he’s been fired twice in under 2 years which includes moves all over the country; she is exhibiting physical symptoms of extreme stress. With a RASN, *nothing* changes.

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  5. Jade

    A stunningly accurate summary of what happens when we go to the church for help! I even believed my church would be different, because they didn’t hammer on women’s submission from the pulpit, and one of the pastors even denounced King David as a rapist. When I told them what my husband had done, they said they believed me and would help me. I sent them article after article and video after video explaining abuse and how to respond to it. I wrote an entire essay. Yet nothing has happened. They’re very sorry for what I’ve gone though, of course, but my husband is surely just a “troubled sheep” they need to help. I, on the other hand, am guilty of the much more serious sin of refusing to forgive (because forgiveness = staying with an abuser). *I* am the one who has destroyed my “beautiful family” by separating. I am the one who was refused baptism and church membership. I am the one who is looking for a new church, leaving the only community I had in this town since we’ve only lived here a couple years. He knows they know, and he feels comfortable to continue attending. What does that say about that church? Nothing good.

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