Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

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The Lie of Toxic Positivity – A Guest Post

Luk 16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.

“It’s all good and you need to get your negative thinking straightened out!” That is the lie of toxic positivity. It is toxic because it is poison to the soul like all lies are. It denies evil rather than being wise to it. It calls evil, “good.” Yes, God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, but the TP people twist this truth to guilt and shame and deny.

The following is an excellent essay written on this subject by one of our blog followers and online church members. Many thanks to her for writing and shining more light on this common “just keep on the sunny side of life” business. Here she is:

Recently you were preaching about toxic positivity.  That got me to thinking… 

Why in Luke 16:25 does Jesus say that the poor Lazarus was being comforted by Abraham, while the rich man was in hell?  I mean, if Lazarus was supposed to always “count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” then shouldn’t Lazarus’s life have been one big rollercoaster of joy because of all his trials?  Why would he need to be comforted after all the terrible things he suffered here on Earth?  The “you be joyful right now you loathsome sinner” crowd would say that Lazarus should have been over-the-moon to have been “chosen by the Lord” to suffer all that he did.  And according to them, Jesus should have been calling Lazarus out for his sin of “bitterness,” since he could not transcend his circumstances to reach a higher “joy” plane — either by using positive thinking, “keeping an eternal perspective,”  practicing some sort of christian-y Zen, or aggressively ignoring everything that was happening to him and forcing a smile.  


Like I was told by my “c”hristian counselors — while being stalked by my ex, my church putting me under church discipline and shunning, being thrown under the bus by my own lawyer, medical providers taking me to court to sue me for medical bills “himself” had not been paying for years, losing my home and everything I ever owned, “himself” confiscating our joint checking and savings accounts (even though I paid into them), “himself” refusing to pay child support, me having to move back in and live with my abusive parents, being harassed and shamed by my abusive brothers, losing my job, losing all my friends, and my daughter’s genetic, chronic illness suddenly making the full force of its brutal self known in her body — I was counseled to focus on their “train analogy” to help me find joy.  You see, the engine is your thoughts, the coal car is your actions, and the caboose is your feelings.  If you’re in a bad state, just think happy thoughts.  Change… your mind. Change your mind, change your life!  Repeat/(chant) pieces of verses from the list they gave me.  You know those memes… “if you’re feeling this, then read that piece of verse,” those things that go around on Facebook.  Happy, holy thoughts will get the engine turned around and get it heading in the right direction. And it will start to pull everything else onto the “right” track.


Then, make yourself do happy actions.  Make yourself sing praise songs (but not in the choir anymore because they kicked me out of choir and all ministry).  Read good Christian books (but only from their “selected authors and publishers” reading list).  Cook or bake (but don’t indulge the flesh or self-medicate with food).  Exercise (but don’t do it from the sins of pride or vanity).  Take extra good care of my kids (but do not inform them about abusers’ tactics, do not discuss their fear, rage, and anger for what “himself” had done to them and what pastors and church kids were still doing to them, do not read to them what I was learning from *secular* [*whispered tones*] Lundy Bancroft or have them listen to *angry* Jeff Crippen sermons on becoming wise to evil — because, even though they were heavily abused too, it was all just me “dumping my baggage” on my 17, 15. and 13 year old kiddos, poisoning them against the father who they “secretly loved [they didn’t — they were afraid he would carry through on his threats to kill them and collect their life insurance to pay off his credit card debts], and who they secretly wanted to see often [they were terrified of even seeing his vehicle across a parking lot], but I made them too afraid to say their secret desires out loud.”)  


But, if I think (their prescribed) happy thoughts, do (their prescribed) happy actions, then eventually my feelings would be dragged around into the opposite direction, get aligned to the “correct” position, and my happy train would get on the right track, and I would be joyous all the time.  Pain and suffering, even that of my kids, would no longer affect me!  My problems would melt away in the light of my eternal perspective….  Blush *squee….!!!!*   


    All that to say, Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus is being comforted in Paradise for all the trauma he went through.  And Jesus holds this formerly miserable man up as an example of righteousness in His parable — someone resting blissfully now and eternally.  Jesus did not use him as an example of failed faith or failed joy.  To quote the kids nowadays, Jesus “ain’t even mad” that Lazarus needed comforting and was being held in the arms of his father-in-faith, Abraham.  So if Jesus makes a man who needs comfort after trauma, out to be the protagonist — the hero, if you will — in His parable, then why does the “toxic positivity” squad think that they know better than the Lord they say they serve?

"If You Only Understood…" Using History as an Excuse for Sin

But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph 4:20-32)

I have written other posts in which I dealt with typical excuses the abuser makes for his or her evil actions. Here I want to talk about the same subject, but with broader application for all of us.
I have met numbers of professing Christians who characteristically exercise “bad tempers.” They are known for flying off the handle in anger, lashing out at others, most any time that they are told something they don’t want to hear. Or if they are denied something that they want. Most churches have such people in membership. “Oh yes, Jane. She is a touchy one alright. Don’t get on her wrong side. But we just love her anyway.” That kind of thing you see.
And many times such people’s sin (and that is what it is, sin) is excused because they have some history of mistreatment by others. “Yes, he is a real dragon quite often but then he had a really rough and abusive childhood.” Or, “we must be patient with her. She is very selfish but if you knew her background you would understand.” This kind of thing is very, very common. We are told that sin is to be excused because of the sinning person’s past.
Now, certainly trauma and abuse affect a person. Fear easily morphs into anger. There really are such things as emotional “triggers” that can set off various reactions (usually beginning with fear) in a person and these things are definitely understandable. You beat and abuse an animal over time and you shouldn’t be surprised if it snarls and snaps at you. Nevertheless, when I sin against someone by lashing out at them or hating them in my mind or being in some other way unkind to them, I am responsible for my sin. The Lord calls me to repent of it. I cannot use my past to justify and excuse my sin. I CAN perhaps use my past to help me UNDERSTAND why I launch out into sin in certain scenarios, but not for the purpose of excusing myself, but for the purpose of helping me see why a particular temptation comes my way in the first place so I can be better prepared to stand against it next time.
Trauma and abuse at the hands of the wicked is actually meant by the Lord to cause us to be MORE understanding and kind to people. For instance –

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:33-34)

You even see a very similar dynamic in Jesus’ suffering (without sin by Him of course) –

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:18)

See? The Israelites were abused big time by Pharaoh. But that suffering is to lead them to have more compassion on others in a like situation, not to excuse them for being hateful toward others.
Using our background of troubles as an excuse for sinning against others is a real trap and pitfall. It is a place we just really do not want to go, and those who do can spend years and years in that snare. It prevents us from even recognizing love when it is dumped in our lap. It prevents us from loving others.
This is why good, truthful therapy is so helpful. For the Christian, much of that therapy can come from God’s Word shining a light on what is really going on in our minds. We can benefit greatly from getting help from people who have been down that traumatic, abusive road themselves. Not so we can justify our sin, but (I say again) so that we can better see ourselves, understand what is going on in us, and realize finally that we do not have to keep getting set off like a keg of gunpowder each time some person or situation lights a fuse.
No, this does not mean that we naively and foolishly trust/unconditionally forgive/reconcile with people who are our enemies. If you have read this blog for much time at all you know that we would never teach that nonsense. An enemy remains an enemy as long as their wicked maliciousness is pointed at us. But what we are saying is that we must not fall into the trap of justifying our own sin [or anyone’s] just because of what happened to us before. Sin is sin and it is never excusable. It is “forgiveable” when we confess it to the Lord and ask Him to deliver us from temptation.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Mat 6:9-13)

When Anger is Godly

As we write about abuse, as we speak about it and give counsel to abuse victims, the subject and question of ANGER frequently comes up. It arises in various ways:

  1. Victims who are Christians are conflicted because they are angry, yet they think that it is a sin to be angry.
  2. We feel anger when we hear victims tell us how they are being treated with terrible injustice by their churches.
  3. Critics cry “foul!” when we expose and critique some beloved notable Christian leader, pastor, author, theologian’s erroneous and damaging teachings that add immense suffering to abuse victims and enable abusers.  “How unkind, how unloving to be so critical of a brother in Christ!  You should be ashamed!”  So they are angry with us because we are angry. (Increasingly, I am convinced that these critics are motivated by a blind loyalty to their icons and would be upset with anyone who would question their chosen one for anything).

But there is a time for anger:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Anger in its essence is not sinful.  That is obvious because God is angry.  God incarnate was angry — intensely so.  In fact, to not be angry is a sin sometimes:

Matthew 23:13-25 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Bancroft refers to “dispassionate, academic” ways of writing and speaking about things.  He says that those attitudes have their place, but that when it comes to the atrocious injustice of abuse, we need to be angry. He is right. Be angry and don’t sin. But be angry. “Woe to you…. abusers!  Woe to you false shepherds who protect the abuser!”  Woe to anyone who stands in front of their congregation and authoritatively (implying his authority is from God) declares things that oppress and enslave the innocent. Woe to you who heap huge loads of guilt upon the weak! Woe to you who demand that a woman submit to her abuser and to you as her priest.
For such anger, we will be labeled “un-scholarly” and “radical” and “slanderous.” But what kinds of labels were laid on Jesus, do you suppose, when He publicly declared the iconic religious leaders and teachers of His day to be objects of God’s wrath? If God Himself is moved to wrath when the innocent are oppressed, so will His children who have become partakers of His nature.
When our critics say “why are you so angry at all of this?” we ask them “why aren’t you?”

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