Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

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A Fresh Look at Evil and an Open Call to all who Teach on Marriage – Ephesians 6

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Most Christians think that they understand the Apostle Paul’s words here in these familiar verses from his letter to the Ephesians. The Christian armor. The devil, and so on. I am writing this post for two reasons, 1) to demonstrate that in fact most Christians, pastors, teachers, authors, and counselors in fact have a very, very minimal or even non-existent notion of what Paul is speaking of here, and 2) to encourage us all to take a fresh and deeper look at the nature of our enemy.

Let’s begin with the second point first.

Recently I watched a superhero movie — Dr. Strange. I liked it. Oh of course the worldview and theology in it was total fantasy, as it was meant to be. But there were some thought-provoking lines in it. One was when Dr. Stephen Strange went to Katmandu (you always find ultimate truth in some Buddhist monastery type place, right?) in search of a way to heal his injured hands. He connected with “the ancient one” – a bald lady named “the ancient one” – and she introduced him to regions beyond. He was told to “forget everything he knew.”

Now, of course this kind of mind-emptying eastern mystical stuff is completely foreign and even opposed to the truth of God’s Word. We don’t empty our minds to know Christ, but He does give us a new one. And in some ways you might say that a Christian has to “forget everything he knew” in order to know Christ. You see this for example in 1 Corinthians where the wisdom of God is contrasted with the wisdom of man.

Most Christians think that they know about evil. They might even be able to quote from Ephesians 6 word for word. But what I am trying to emphasize here is that we simply do not understand our enemy or his tactics until we get firmly hold on what Paul is saying here. We think we know. But we do not.

Think about it.

Paul says pointedly, for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers/authorities/cosmic powers over this present darkness/spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. Flesh and blood we know. Touch it, feel it, see it, smell it. It’s people. But non-flesh and blood, ah, that is a different story. Let me put this question to you pointedly and I hope that it serves to greatly humble all of us, especially if you are someone who has been preaching or teaching or writing books about marriage. The question is this:

Really, just how much do you know about rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places? How much? Be honest. If you are a “teacher of Israel” as Jesus admonished Nicodemus, and you do not know much at all about such things, how can you venture to teach others?

Let me ask you still another question:

What if, just what if, there is a realm of darkness in this creation, operating its destruction, lying, deceiving, enslaving, that you really know hardly anything about? What if what you have been taught about evil is woefully lacking? What if you are wrong, in other words, about the enemy of our souls? And yet you are presuming to teach the church.

Now, I can hear many saying at this point, “I know quite a lot about evil and our enemy. I have my Bible. I know what it says.” Do you? Do you really? Do you truly know (to repeat) rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil? I am not speaking of knowing a list of facts. I am asking you if you have a true, working, experiential knowledge taught to you by the Spirit of God through the Word of God and through hard experience in this warfare. Let me answer for you. You do not. Unless you have personally been “touched” by these spiritual forces of evil right down where you live, you simply are ignorant of its nature and its tactics.

Humble admission of this ignorance is the starting point for growing wise in these matters. Arrogant insistence that you know is only a guarantee that you will remain ignorant and continue to be an ally of the enemy.
Do not grow defensive as these things are put to you. Those of you who have been preaching to others or writing books on marriage will make your greatest mistake if, when you are critiqued and your errors are pointed out, you react by circling your wagons and refusing to listen to the people who do know this evil. We at Unholy Charade see this ALL the time. I don’t know if we have ever had a well-known author or pastor humble themselves, acknowledge their need to learn, and ask for help. Rather it has been circle the wagons and fire back. The problem is, they end up firing back at the victims of evil, not at the evil itself.

Here is one more line I took from the Dr. Strange movie that really is particularly good. Dr. Strange was a well-known and famous surgeon, but he was very arrogant. The Ancient One (remember, don’t take your theology from the movies!) told him that there was one fundamental truth that he absolutely had to learn. Here it is:

It’s not about you!

And yet typically when we try to point out the errors  of the preachers, notable teachers and authors, when we try to steer them to solid facts about the nature and tactics of evil, they react as if it is all about them. “How dare you criticize my book. Don’t you know how many copies have sold? I just don’t understand how you can be so mean to me.”  It’s all about them, you see.  But it isn’t all about them. It is all about God’s truth in Christ, about exposing the evil of this present darkness, and about setting the captives free.

The Lord has taught myself and all the host of our readers some hard, hard lessons that most of the time took decades for us to finally get. [And I still fall prey to the enemy at times. I haven’t fully learned yet]. We have all been touched (some more, some less) by this devilish evil we call abuse. It came into our lives intimately, personally, in the form of evil people whose lust for power and control knew no bounds. Sometimes that evil stood in a pulpit, sat on a church board, served as a missionary, headed up a para-church ministry, shared the same bed in a “Christian” marriage, or some other “angel of light” disguise. But it all came down the road of our life. “Something Wicked this Way Comes” as the Disney movie title puts it. It came our way. Lying, deceiving, confusing, destroying. Until the Lord in His grace by His Spirit began to lift that confusing fog and we were enabled to see it for what it really is.

This teaching was not our doing. It was the Lord’s work in us. We wrote books. We started this blog. We interact with abuse survivors and victims and sometimes with abusers. And you know the remarkable thing that we saw right at the start and which we still see virtually every single day? We see victims thanking us, telling us things like “you saved my life,” or “your books tell the very story of my life of abuse.”  NEVER have we had an abuse victims tell us that what we have written and taught harmed them, enabled their abuser, and held them in bondage longer. Never. Why? Because the Lord taught us personally through hard, hard years of abuser attacks what the nature of this evil and our enemy is. We have shared in the same evil our fellow-survivors have.

In contrast (and we say this humbly, not arrogantly nor vengefully), when we critique a book on marriage, for example, and our readers comment on our critique and tell their stories about how that book or other ministry hurt and harmed and endangered them, it is VITAL that the authors listen to them. Vital! Here are the people taught by the Lord in the fire, people intimately acquainted with evil, telling the authors or pastors or Christian counselors — “no, you don’t know. You don’t understand. Listen to me and I can tell you how your teachings are enabling evil because you do not truly know it” — and what is happening most every time? The “authorities” refuse to listen. They are dismissive toward them. They act with an air of superiority. And if the victims persist in trying to speak out, the “teachers” become angry. Some even start playing the victim. “Oh, I just cannot understand why all of this negativity is being directed at me.”

And so here is still another call to such “teachers of the church.” Admit that your real knowledge of evil is very, very limited. Confess that yes, when you wrote your book or taught your seminar or preached your sermon series, you had absolutely no inkling about this thing called abuse. You did not even conceive of such an evil person existing, let alone in the church. And most of you still don’t. And many of the “most” don’t want to know.

How can anyone possibly write a Christian marriage book, or really any Christian book at all, while remaining ignorant of the nature and tactics of evil? Consider one more time at least the titles Paul gives these “principalities and powers” in Ephesians 6 and confess to the Lord that there are very likely many truths about this evil that are entirely outside your realm of experience. Listen. Listen to the voices of the victims who are very ready and willing to help open your eyes, if you will simply step down from your high horse and listen.

Foolish Naivete About Evil Disqualifies a “Counselor”

John 8:42-44  Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.  Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Romans 3:10-17  as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”

The doctrine of the total depravity of man does not mean that every human being is as evil (depraved) as they could possibly be. Nor does it mean that all people are equally evil or that all sins are as sinful as others. What it does mean is that the being of man is totally fallen. That the effects of sin have infected every part of the human: mind, body, soul, emotions, so that there is no “island of goodness” in man which has been left unaffected. In other words, Luke Skywalker’s opinion that Darth Vader had some good in him somewhere is mere fiction.

Many people, including pastors and counselors, profess to adhere to the doctrine of total depravity, and yet in practice they are more like Jedi knights, looking to the good side of the force in everyone. This totally disqualifies them from dealing properly with abusers. I want to say that again. Anyone who approaches an abuse situation with the notion that somehow through kindness and love, through behavior changes by victims, etc., the “good part” of the abuser can be reached and appealed to, needs to step down off of their high horse and just stop it!  Stop giving advice to victims of abuse. Stop counseling abusers or even listening to them. This kind of thinking is foolishness at best and rank arrogance at worst. And it is dangerous.

In dealing with an abuser you must believe nothing he or she says. You must seek corroboration to his claims. You must assume that he is trying to deceive you, that he is falsely blaming his victim, that he is lying. If anyone is unwilling to use this approach, they are simply unqualified to be involved with abuse cases. Naivete is dangerous. There is no place here for “always keep thinking on the brighter side of life” because the evil of abuse is darkness.  It is very dark, and there is no light in it at all.  Yes, it is that bad.

Foolish naivete about evil leads to all kinds of crazy and damaging advice to victims: 1) You must be doing something to set him off, 2) We are all sinners, 3) The Bible says that if you just love him enough he will change, 4) He is just suffering from the torments of his childhood . . . blah, blah, blah. The reality of the abuser mentality is set out very plainly in Scripture however. There IS such a thing as evil. There ARE evil people. They won’t change. They don’t intend to change. They are indeed capable of appearing as angels of light. Remember, these “servants” Paul talks about are people:

2 Corinthians 11:13-15  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

God’s Word is very plain on the reality and nature of evil. We have no excuse for not being wise in this regard. And therefore I conclude that foolish naivete about some supposed “island of goodness” in every human being that can somehow be reached in some way is a willful disregard of God’s own Word. When I was a police officer, two of the laws I enforced were “careless driving” and “reckless driving,” the latter being the more severe offense. What was the difference? The level of culpability. Careless driving was an action that, through careless inattention, endangered others. Reckless driving was defined as a willful, knowing disregard for the rights and safety of others. So what I am maintaining here is that much of the counsel given to abusers and their victims is reckless. It is a willful and knowing and intentional disregard for what God’s Word says about evil.

And thus, such reckless counsel is evil in itself.

More on Revilers I Have Known

Mat 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (12) Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Reviler is the biblical word for an abuser. Other words are used in Scripture to describe the evil that abusers do, but this title “reviler” gets to the heart of it. You see that little root in the word – “vil” – which reminds us of related terms like “villain,” or “villify” or, hmmm…. “vile.” A reviler is vile. Anyway, what a reviler does is to make the innocent be the villain. And they do this by accusing. Revilers are accusers and that evil is part of the very nature of the devil himself:

Rev 12:10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

I have known revilers and so have most all of you. The ones I have known are those who parade as Christians. They were church members and most often they put themselves off as the most pious and holy saints to be found anywhere.

Reviling is in the reviler’s nature. It proceeds from the devilish heart that defines who they are. They don’t have to really even plan the reviling attack – it just spews out of their mouth from their heart. The attack comes as we say “out of the blue.” Things can be going along quite pleasantly – some dinner or other church event, some gathering of friends – and then here comes the arrow. Sometimes in secret, sometimes in front of everyone.

  • I remember when you said I was to blame
  • You had no right to spend that money
  • I think you sinned when you told Jack to stop being mean to his wife
  • I know why you are taking that college class
  • I know why you bought that car
  • You are a very hard person to talk to
  • You didn’t come and visit me when I was sick

And on and on and on the list could go. Every single one of these statements is used by the reviler to accuse. To blame. To guilt and to attack.

Think about what this business of reviling requires. Most of us would be very hesitant to say such a thing, even if it were true. We season our speech. Of course the abuser counts on this and uses our hesitancy against us, knowing that we most often won’t expose his evil by speaking of it. But the reviler enjoys reviling. It gives him a rush of power and he loves it. He loves to see the hurt that his words inflict. He assaults with his speech and he loves to launch those arrows.

This is why the Lord says that a reviler will never see the kingdom of God. Revilers are going to hell along with their father the devil. Perhaps in the lake of fire for all eternity they will be reviling one another and trying to put the blame anywhere but upon themselves.

Don’t try to fix a reviler. You will only find grief for yourself and your efforts to “help” will be regarded by him as a weak spot for him to reviler you further.

Additional Reading:

Another Look at the Abuser as Reviler

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