Quotes from “A Cry For Justice” by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood
“Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them.”
“The local church is one of the favorite hiding places of the abusive person. Conservative, Bible-believing religion is his frequent choice of facade. Within the evangelical church, women (and sometimes men) are being terribly abused in their homes and marriages. The children of such abusers are suffering as well. And when these victims come to their churches, to their pastors, to their fellow Christians, pleading for help, well… Job 19:7 “Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice.”
Victims of abuse are often discounted by their churches. When they gain courage to seek help, they are routinely given superficial advice, accused of not being good enough wives or children, told that they are surely exaggerating the case, and then sent back home to “do better” and suffer even more at the hands of their tormentor. And when they finally leave their abuser, either by separation or divorce, most often the victim is the one who must leave their church while the abuser remains.
The church, in other words, is enabling the wicked person. In our ignorance of this subject (and please understand, abuse is a unique subject that requires special training and education to comprehend and deal with properly) we arrogantly assume that we know all about it. Pastors, church leaders and individual church members think they are helping victims. Many sincerely want to help them. And yet, because of their ignorance of the nature of abuse, they end up actually being an unwitting ally of the wicked person, adding to the suffering of the victim. We have a serious problem. The liberal churches know that we do; women’s resource centers know; prosecutors and judges know – but we have yet to own up to our ignorance and, yes, arrogance.
…Of all agencies in the world, it is the Christian church that ought to be the leader in exposing darkness with the light of Christ’s truth. Sadly, however, this has often not been the case.
…it is a serious mistake to assume an abuser thinks like everyone else does. Abuse is rooted in a unique form of the sin mentality. Any method of dealing with the abuser and helping his victim is destined to failure unless we recognize this fundamental fact. Abusers are not like you and me. They do not look at other people as we do, nor do they view themselves in ways that we would call normal. They are not like the common drunk, or the thief, or adulterer. Yes, the abuser can be one or all of these as well, but the object of his craving – power and control and the incredible sense that he is fully entitled to it – fashions him into an especially dangerous and damaging creature.
What a Victim Can Expect in a Typical Evangelical Church
Let me list for you the typical cycle of what an abuse victim can expect when she reports the abuse to her church (pastor, elders) seeking help and justice. Those knowledgeable about abuse know that there is a “cycle of abuse” that describes the abuser’s pattern. What I am suggesting here is that there is a “cycle of abuse” effected at the hands of the victim’s church. Here is the drama that I have had victim after victim recount to me:
1. Victim reports abuse to her pastor.
2. Pastor does not believe her claims, or at least believes they are greatly exaggerated. After all, he “knows” her husband to be one of the finest Christian men he knows, a pillar of the church.
3. Pastor minimizes the severity of the abuse. His goal is often, frankly, damage control (to himself and to his church).
4. Pastor indirectly (or not so indirectly!) implies that the victim needs to do better in her role as wife and mother and as a Christian. He concludes that all such scenarios are a “50/50” blame sharing.
5. Pastor sends the victim home, back to the abuser, after praying with her and entrusting the problem to the Lord.
6. Pastor believes he has done his job.
7. Victim returns, reporting that nothing has changed. She has tried harder and prayed, but the abuse has continued.
8. Pastor decides to do some counseling. He says “I will have a little talk with your husband” or “I am sure that all three of us can sit down and work this all out.” Either of these routes only result in further and more intense abuse of the victim. This counseling can go on for years! (One victim reported that it dragged on for nine years in her case).
9. As time passes, the victim becomes the guilty party in the eyes of the pastor and others. She is the one causing the commotion. She is pressured by the pastor and others in the church to stop rebelling, to submit to her husband, and stop causing division in the church.
10. After more time passes, the victim separates from or divorces the abuser. The church has refused to believe her, has persistently covered up the abuse, has failed to obey the law and report the abuse to the police; and has refused to exercise church discipline against the abuser. Ironically, warnings of impending church discipline are often directed against the victim!
11. The final terrible injustice is that the victim is the one who must leave the church, while the abuser remains a member in good standing, having successfully duped the pastor and church into believing that his victim was the real problem. One abuse victim (a man in this case) told me that he finally came to the awakening that “I know exactly what my church is going to do about my abuser: Nothing!” He left while she remained a member in good standing, the daughter of a leading pastor in the denomination.
I observed a similar pattern firsthand following an incident of abuse. Over time, concern for the victim diminishes and the primary focus turns to the plight of the perpetrator, the consequences he must suffer now, and how we can help him. At the same time, the victim is increasingly pushed aside and even accused of causing all of this unpleasantness. In Christian settings, the victim is accused of being unforgiving and of refusing to obey Scripture’s commands to reconcile. The victim becomes a leper and often is ultimately driven outside the camp. It is horrible injustice. What must Christ think of it?
As we will see, being a victim of abuse and living with an abuser is very much like being a prisoner of war in a concentration camp. Just as both physical and psychological methods are used by the enemy in those settings, so it is in the experience of the abuse victim. When we deal with a victim therefore, we should not be surprised if she exhibits some forms of mental instability. This certainly does not mean that she is a crazy person, but simply that she is suffering from some of the typical mental effects of longstanding abuse. If we fail to understand this, we will be ripe for the deceptions of the abuser in trying to convince us that the victim is the problem because, “as you can see, she’s crazy!”
I have heard and read several well-known and respected pastors make statements that indicate they do not believe a woman can leave her husband unless she is in actual physical danger of physical assault. Over and over and over again, abuse victims are being told that God requires them to stay with their abuser (usually the abuser is called her husband and the term abuser is not used at all). She is told that this is God’s will for her as a wife.
Often this advice is coupled with further counsel that is she will persevere in her marriage no matter the cost to her, God will win her husband over. She is told that submitting to the abuser is God’s will for her sanctification and that she is a missionary in her home. The reaction of the church at large, coupled with her fear of her abuser, often leads the abused wife to endure a life filled with fear and pain and to do so in solitary silence. Little wonder then that abusers enjoy such immunity from exposure and prosecution in the church, and in fact so frequently select the church as an area for their evil.
One of the most important things we must do in fighting abuse is to come to terms with the fact we have been deceived by abusive people. That things are not always as they appear to be. That human beings are capable of incredible degrees of deception. That there are some people whose minds and consciences simply do not operate as our do, making them capable of living a lie and yet being able to sleep quite well at night, untroubled by any remorse.
You have read, as we all have, the regular news accounts of murders committed by men who are husbands and fathers. A wife is shot. Even children are killed. Whole families wiped out, and normally the murderer kills himself as well. What do most all of these stories include? Interviews with neighbors and co-workers. And what do they say? What do WE say? “I just can’t understand it. He was always such a nice man and they seemed like a fine family.” This should tell us at some point that abusive people are masters at playing their chosen role. As these terrible kinds of events reveal, this man was not a nice man at all. And something was horribly wrong all along in that family. We didn’t see it. Perhaps we didn’t want to see it.
Children are also damaged greatly by the world of the abuser’s secrecy. They are sworn to silence about what daddy did to mommy last night and their oath of silence is enforced with a threat. To keep abuse secret, children often must tell lies. That bruise on their arm must be explained. Or that swelling over mom’s eye. Or why mother looks like she has been crying. Secrets are also kept because exposure threatens to bring great shame upon the children, or because of their fear of being abandoned by their parents or parent. Keeping bad secrets is always associated with fear, and living in habitual fear is not a healthy place to live.
Probably no type of abuse is wrapped in a greater degree of secrecy than sexual abuse. This is an ugly, terrible world and yet it is one that many, many women and children endure as a way of life. Typically, unless a sexual abuser in the home is exposed while the children are still young, decades go by before the now adult children realize what has happened to them. Abusers make threats to children they sexually violate in order to keep “the secret.” Fear, intense feelings of shame, false guilt and more, all work to greatly damage these victims. Many domestic violence abusers also sexually abuse the children in the home.