Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

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Moving Beyond Victimhood

Rom 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (32) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (33) Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. (34) Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (36) As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” (37) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (38) For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, (39) nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In our many discussions of and articles about abuse, we use common titles for the abuser’s target – victim being the most common. Sometimes survivor is preferred. These are good and useful labels to describe our experience of being treated wickedly by evil people.

But in this article I want to propose to you that it is a damaging error to embrace these terms to describe who we are. Because if we do that, we are going to mis-identify who we really are in Christ. And that mistake leads to all kinds of trouble.

The Apostle Paul was abused. Big time. Listen to him here:

2Co 11:24-27 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; (26) on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; (27) in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Think about this. Talk about being traumatized! And yet Paul did not characterize himself as a victim, or a survivor of abuse. He knew who he was in the essence of his being – a child of God, a saint, a citizen of heaven, a person deeply loved by the Lord. You see it in the Romans 8 quote above. Notice how often he mentions the love of Christ.

The Bible does not leave us in perpetual victimhood. It does not deny the reality of evil – quite the opposite. But we must understand that we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. We do not have to be enslaved to the trauma effected upon us by the evil one. And I believe that this is a great error pushed upon us by quite a lot of counseling. It leaves us stuck in victimhood. That is not God’s will for us. He wants us as His children to know who we are in Christ and to live in the freedom these truths bring. Understand? Trauma is real. PTSD is real. Fear is real. I have no doubt that Paul experienced some or all of these things. But in the end, he knew who he was and he refused to be identified as a victim. He was a conqueror. He had been set free by Christ and he knew it.

I think that one of the keys to moving from victim into the joy and freedom Christ intends for us, is to come to know the love of Christ. Check this out:

Eph 3:14-19 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, (15) from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, (16) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (18) may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, (19) and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

To know the love of Christ. To be filled with the fullness of God. These are gifts shown to us by the Spirit. Rooted and grounded in love.

I believe that one of the traps that keeps people in perpetual victimhood is an inability to accept love. Evil has sold them so many lies that when truth comes along, they don’t accept it. When love comes, they do not receive it. So one of the crucial things that we need is for the Lord to lift off the blinders that wicked people have put on us, and enable us to see the love of Christ for us. Otherwise what is going to happen is that when real love does come to us, we won’t have it. We will be stuck. Bogged down in confusion about who we really are. And make no mistake, evil people just love to tell you who you are! These are of course lies from the pit designed to enslave.

Here is some good news then. Without denying the reality of the painful effects of abuse – they are very real – let me say this: you can be free of these things. You do not need to live the rest of your life as victim. But the key to this freedom is not man-made. It is not “I am going to stand up for myself. I am not going to put up with this anymore. I am going to work out and practice with weapons and nobody better ever mess with me again!” All of that is just a disguise for perpetual victimhood. And even worse, it can become a path to us becoming quite abusive ourselves. No, freedom lies in Christ. It is to be found in knowing the unknowableness of His love for us. If you are a Christian (and you must be born again!) then the Spirit of Christ is in you. He wants to show you who you are. He is trying to teach you about this freedom that is yours if you will just receive it. He is trying to reveal to you the depths of God’s love for you. He is trying to show you that, well, you are not a victim. You are a conqueror and this victory comes through Him who loved us so.

This is a very Damaging Teaching that Abusers Love

The following quote was found by twbtc on Twitter recently, posted by an abuse victim. I do not know who she is and I certainly am not posting this article with the intent of being mean to her. But her words are a teaching that is very widespread among professing Christians. The churches typically teach it. Abusers love it. And it results in victims being hindered from getting free. Here is the statement:

“While God HATES what my abuser did to me, I know that he loves my abuser as much as he loves me. So much, in fact, that he died for him. I don’t like that. But, if it’s not true then the God I’m worshipping is one that I made up and I don’t want a made up God. My abuser chose…”

First of all, let me highly recommend that anyone who thinks this is true, go to our youtube site at Unholy Charade and carefully listen to the series of videos I did entitled “Does God Love Everyone?” There is an avalanche of scripture presented there that demonstrates the answer to this question is a resounding “No.”

God does not love the wicked as much as He loves His children. God does not love the wicked in the same way He loves the righteous. In fact, I propose to you that God does not love the wicked, period! In addition, it is a false statement to insist that Christ died for your abuser. Christ died for His people, for His elect (see John 17 for instance). And finally, what we have in this statement is 180 degrees out of kilter. The god who loves the wicked as much as he loves his children, the god who died on the cross for the unrepentant, habitually and characteristically oppressor of widows and orphans, is in the fact the false god.

In this commenter’s theology, it is man who does the choosing, not God. It is the sinner (who is dead to God in his sin, unable to take a single step toward God) upon whom the matter turns. Man somehow, who hates God, chooses God. As long as I still held to these ideas (because that is what I was taught) I was unable to make any sense out of the Bible.

God hates what your abuser does, and God hates your abuser. Understanding this puts you on the path to freedom.

Wayne Grudem isn't Sorry for the Damage He has Done to Abuse Victims

Wayne Grudem. “Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary.” Wayne Grudem, author of 22 books. Wayne Grudem of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Most of you have probably heard of Grudem. In this article, I want to talk to you about Grudem’s supposed “groundbreaking” study of 1 Corinthians 7 and his resulting announcement “Grounds for Divorce: Why I Now Believe There are More than Two” (June, 2020).

Grudem was general editor for the ESV Study Bible, in which we read the following quote from the section on biblical ethics: (boldface highlight is mine)

Are There Other Grounds for Divorce? In addition to the two grounds of sexual immorality or desertion by an unbelieving spouse, are there any other legitimate, biblical grounds for divorce? Some interpreters have argued that repeated instances of physical abuse should be seen as an additional legitimate ground for divorce. Others would respond that many other means should be used to bring the abuse to an immediate halt, including separation (for the eventual purpose of bringing restoration along with the complete cessation of the abuse), church discipline, confrontation and counseling, police action, a court order, and other kinds of intervention by church members, family, and friends. But these would stop short of adding a reason for divorce that neither Jesus nor Paul specified.

Bibles, Crossway. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 325157-325158). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Grudem, like so many other pastors, theologians, churches, etc., has taught for years that abuse is not grounds for divorce. You see the typical language of “instances of physical abuse” in this quote which we know exposes a person using such language as being ignorant of the mentality, nature, and tactics of the domestic abuser. My point here is that Grudem has denied that abuse is grounds for divorce, claiming that the Bible only allows for divorce for adultery or desertion.

Well, now we are all supposed to rejoice and give praise to the Lord because Grudem has published What the Bible Says About Divorce and Remarriage (Crossway, 2021) which is adapted from his book Christian Ethics. In this booklet, Grudemn announces that his detailed study of 1 Cor 7:15 has led him to “A New and Broader Understanding” of the phrase “in such cases.” Here is the verse:

1Co 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

Grudem now concludes that the phrase “in such cases” broadens the application of this text from just addressing desertion as a ground for divorce, but is to include, well here is how he puts it:

…when Paul uses en tois toioutois to say that ‘in such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved”, he implies that divorce is a legitimate possibility not only in cases of desertion by an unbeliever, but also in other circumstances that are similar to but not necessarily exactly like desertion. A reasonable possibility is that ‘in such cases’ in 1 Cor 7:15 means ‘in this and other similarly destructive situations’ (that is, situations that destroy a marriage as much as adultery or desertion).

What the Bible Says About Divorce and Remarriage, p 42

Grudem goes on then to apply his conclusions to divorce for abuse, abuse of children, extreme, prolonged verbal and realtional cruelty, credible threats of serious physical harm or murder, or incorrigible drug or alcohol or gambling addiction. He says “Pastors, elders, and Christian counselors…need much wisdom and discernment in order to rightly evaluate the actual degree of harm in individual cases and whether there is a reasonable basis for hope that the destructive behavior has ended and the marriage can be saved.” And he continues by saying that “Churches Need to Aggressively Protect an Abused Spouse….In cases of physical abuse, something – perhaps several things – must be done quickly to prevent the abused spouse from having to endure further suffering…for the eventual purpose of bringing restoration of the marriage along with the complete cessation of abuse).”

Now, this book and Grudem’s words are so filled with error that I hardly know where to even begin. Notice his emphasis on physical abuse. Notice how he emphasizes that (page 51) “Restoration of the Marriage, if Possible, Must Remain the First Goal.” Notice how he assumes that church leaders are the ones who are going to judge these cases and give a verdict of divorce or no divorce. All of these things point to Grudem’s continuing damaging thinking on this subject of domestic abuse. His overall tone is that divorce is always a damaging thing that is to be a very last resort and which will always cause damage to children. These are fallacies. We know, for instance, that divorce from an abuser is the best thing for the victim and the children!

But what I want to point out specifically here in this article are two things:

  • Grudem seems to think that we should be “wowed” and in awe at his “groundbreaking discovery” from this little phrase “in such cases.” To this, I say – Wayne, we have been saying that abuse is grounds for divorce for years. You have been opposing our position. And now, it has supposedly taken a minute study of three little Greek words for you to be able to see it? So that now you and your academic cohorts can sit around and talk about a little tree in the forest that you should have seen a long time ago? This smacks of something we have seen before:

Mat 23:23-24 “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. (24) You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Fine, now Wayne says abuse in grounds for divorce (although make no mistake, his emphasis is on physical abuse though he lists other kinds of abuse). But he hasn’t come to this position via the route Jesus points out – identifying and seeing the weightier matters of the Law like mercy and faithfulness. No, Grudem continues to focus on the gnat.

  • But even more significantly, I want to point out that Wayne Grudemn offers no apology nor shows any remorse for or confession of the damage his erroneous teaching has caused for countless victims of abuse. He and his crowd (and its a big crowd) have for years refused to acknowledge that abuse is grounds for divorce. They have thereby put guilt and shame and condemnation on countless Christians who have gotten free from their abuser in spite of what the no divorce for abuse crowd said.

Do you see the problem here? These people like Grudem who sit in their academic vatican towers pouring over minutae and cranking out their decrees in books and lectures, seem to think that they are a cut above the rest of Christ’s people. And foolish Christians seem to agree. “What does Grudem say? Did you hear what Grudem wrote? How wonderful! Wayne now says we can divorce for abuse. How glad we are that he and his kind know the deep things of koine Greek!” The thing is sickening.

Grudem and those like him have been doing horrid and cruel damage to probably thousands of real Christians who have been horribly oppressed by wicked, false “Christian” spouses and by their churches. Where is Grudem’s repentance of this? Where is his confession of distorting God’s Word? Where is his godly sorrow for what he has done? I sure don’t see it. What I see is a sanitary, academic, covering of his posterior regions in a manner that will retain his prominence among his fellows.

What would happen if Grudem stood up and said, “Men, we have sinned. Pastors, we have sinned. Theologians, we have sinned. We have oppressed the oppressed, and God sees it all. We have distorted His Word and gutted it of His mercy.” Well what would have happened is that Grudem would have had to pay a price. And I have yet to see one of these celebrities pay the price of being thrown out of the temple.

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