Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

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What if Timothy Continued to Hang Out with Alexander the Coppersmith?

2Ti 4:14-15 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. (15) Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.

We are not told in Scripture what it was specifically that Alexander had done. It involved opposing the gospel with great and evil energy, and must have done real damage to Paul. “Great harm” are the words Paul described it with. But these two little verses have been very important to me. They demonstrate that:

  • It is not slander to specifically name our abuser and expose his evil
  • It is right to look forward to the day when Christ will repay the wicked for what they have done to us

And let me now add a third point to this list:

  • We should expect, (and really the Lord requires) those who claim to be our friends and certainly those who claim to be Christians, to have nothing to do with the wicked one themselves.

Think of it. Alexander was an evil enemy of Paul and of Christ. He had done Paul much harm. Paul warns Timothy to beware of Alexander. (I like to think of Alexander as Alexander the Copperhead!) Does that mean that Timothy should keep hanging out with Alexander, but just be a bit wary of him? Of course not! It means that Timothy must realize that Alexander is an enemy of Christ and that he has done great evil to Paul. Obviously this means Timothy is not going to go over to Alexander’s house for dinner if invited.

And if Timothy did accept such an invitation, if Timothy thought that Paul might be exaggerating, or if Timothy listened to Alexander’s “take” on the gospel, what would that say about Timothy? Specifically, what would it say about Timothy’s real attitude toward Paul?

You see the point, right? All of you who have been wickedly abused by wicked people know that one of the most hurtful and frustrating aspects of it all is that when you make the evil known, when you reveal it and ask for help, when you identify your persecutor, family members, supposed Christian friends, and others you thought would surely help you, continue to maintain relationship and social interaction with the evil one. They do not obey the Lord:

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.

An abuser is what the Bible calls a reviler. A reviler villifies. He accuses and guilts and condemns his victim. And a reviler is on the list that Paul gives here. We are to have nothing to do with such a person, especially if he claims to be a Christian. But is that what you see typically happening when an abuser is identified? No. You see the victim paying a price, but the majority of “friends” keep right on eating with such a one.

Why is this? What makes someone want to keep hanging out with Alexander? Cowardice? Refusal to pay the price of standing with the victim? Denial of the reality of evil? Whatever the reason, there is no good reason for this. It enables evil and causes greater harm to the victim. Furthermore, it raises serious doubt as to the reality of these “friends'” profession of Christ.

I have seen this thing play itself out over the years. People who claim to belong to Christ, people who insist that they are our friends and fellow believers, who then refuse to break off with a person who has cruelly treated someone, eventually end up standing with the wicked and against the victim. And really, this is what they had been doing all along.

If Timothy had not heeded Paul’s warning, if Timothy had socialized with Alexander and regarded the unpleasantness as just some squabble that was between Alexander and Paul, you know what would have happened. Timothy would no longer have been in ministry with Paul and his claim to be Paul’s fellow soldier for the gospel would have been exposed as a sham.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Timothy’s faith was real and he continued to be a great comfort and encouragement to Paul:

Php 2:19-22 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. (20) For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. (21) For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (22) But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

Image Maintenance is Idolatry

When there is sin in the church, we panic.  I believe that this is one of the reasons churches and pastors so often give terrible counsel to victims of abuse. We are the Church!  We are Christians!  We aren’t supposed to sin!  This is a disaster, and it is up to us to fix it lest “Christ’s Name” be tarnished.  I put “Christ’s Name” in quotes because I really think that if we would all be honest, we would have to admit that it is really more about our own image maintenance than it is about Christ’s glory.
Whenever we as individuals or as a church set out to put on a mask, set up an image of ourselves that really isn’t true, we are headed for big trouble.  I saw  a lady yesterday in the big city that was in just such a trap.  She wasn’t unattractive, but she had gone to extravagant lengths to look 20 years younger. Elaborate makeup, painstaking hairstyle, carefully selected younger-generation wardrobe, and hanging on the arm of a man at least 20 years her junior.  Why did I notice?  Because I could see it in her look.  She was trying sooooo hard to find self-worth in all of these things, and I knew it wasn’t going to work.  By watching how the man behaved toward her, I would not be at all surprised if she has gotten herself tied up with an abuser.  Oh, what a charmer he was!  Before he is done with her, I wonder how much of her money and her life he will have taken?  Images are dangerous.  They lead us into serious error.  They are a lie in picture form.
As pastors, as churches, we often construct images — names for ourselves — reputations.  But they are not consistent with who we really are.  And when something happens that is not consistent with the image we crave — like the appearance of sin in the church — well, we launch into a defense and damage-control mode.  And NOTHING good is going to come out of that.  Nothing!
So, for example, when a woman who is being abused by her husband comes to her pastor or to one of us for help and relates to us what is happening, I can tell you what the dynamic is that so easily and readily kicks into gear.  Image protection.  Damage control.  “Oh, no! This kind of thing can’t happen here! We have to fix this.  You can’t divorce.  It makes us….er, Christ, look bad!  No, you must be exaggerating.  Let’s sit down and talk this out.”
And so they talk, perhaps.  But nothing changes.  Except maybe for the worse. So the wife says she is leaving.  “No!  God hates divorce!  You can’t.  This is your calling, to persevere and suffer for the glory of God.”  But what is really going on, so often?  We don’t want our own spotless image soiled with word getting around that such a thing happened in our church.  That our people are somehow less than perfect and might even be capable of …. sin!”
And what then happens to the victim?  She is the whistleblower.  Have you ever read the story of a whistleblower?  Someone who exposes corruption in government or some big business or a giant religious organization?  What generally happens to whistleblowers?  They are slandered, they are fired (ex-communicated), and sometimes they are even killed.  The Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest whistleblower of all!  He exposed sin and corruption – and they killed Him for it.  Governments have some laws in place to protect whistleblowers.  Churches do not.  Abuse victims become a threat to the image. And all too often, their churches respond to them with efforts that, frankly, are designed for nothing else than to make them shut up about it.
This sounds so harsh, doesn’t it?  I can hear voices out there saying “You are so negative!  This is way too judgmental.”  Honestly, I wish that is all there was to it because then I could just repent of saying these things and come to my senses and realize that none of this is happening after all.  But it is.  Witness after witness after witness has come forward and told the story of what happened to them at the hands of their churches when they blew the whistle on their abuser.  Shut up, admit you are wrong, or get out.
Why?  Do we actually believe that our churches are incapable of having hidden sin operating within and among them?  Do we think that no wolf in wool could possibly ever be found in our pews?  Are we so naive that we refuse to admit that there could well be a marriage in our church that is not at all what it appears to be?  Or that a member of our church is in fact a hypocrite who is merely putting on a saintly facade while at home he is the devil incarnate? Does our Lord tell us anything different in His Word?  Has He not given us repeated instructions and warnings about this very kind of thing, and even told us how to handle it?  Does He not, in fact, bless us when we expose these things and deal with them as He has told us to?  Where in the world in Scripture do we ever find that the body of Christ has to keep up an image of perfection?
I can remember a number of years ago talking to the leaders of a church of some 300 people.  The pastor had hit the road with the church secretary, both of them abandoning their spouses.  Immediately not only the church leaders, but especially the denominational representative charged into a campaign of image maintenance and public relations damage control.  I remember asking them if they had handled this sin biblically.   The absconding couple were in no way repentant.  So how were they handled?  They were informed that they were terminated from employment and given the suggestion that they seek counseling.   Then, all of the efforts of the church leadership and denomination from that point on were aimed at getting any tarnish off the image.   I asked the denominational representative if the church intended to obey Christ’s instruction and follow the church discipline process — not only for the good of the church, but for that of the pastor and secretary as well.  He accused me of being too quick to run to judgment.  Well, guess what?  They never did implement church discipline.  As a church, they never acknowledged that just perhaps their own pride had played a part in this whole sorry mess.  They just wanted to get back to “normal.”   But normal there had never been good.  It still isn’t to this day.  The image reigns.
And it reigns in many if not most of our churches today.  Wherever there is an image, there is idolatry.  And where idolatry prevails, Jesus is not present.

Divorce for Abuse – An argument from lesser to greater

For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned1 Corinthians 9:9
He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?”  Matthew 12:3-4 

Many if not most Christians, churches, pastors, confessions of faith and theologians acknowledge that Scripture permits divorce for the reason of adultery. Others add desertion to the list. Often however these same Christians balk at any suggestion that abuse is biblical grounds for divorce. Why? I suggest it is because –

  1. they do not grasp the evil nature of abuse,
  2. they have a wrong notion about the nature of covenants, specifically, the marriage covenant, and
  3. they cling to a method of Scripture interpretation (a “hermenuetic”) that is unbiblical.

It is this last reason I want to discuss here.

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